The captain has turned off the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign, and the dehydrating effects of the airplane’s dry, recycled air already have you panting. Where the heck is the flight attendant with your 5-ounce pour of refreshment?
He hasn’t even barreled down the airplane aisle yet, bumping your elbow with the cart along the way, to start service for the lucky few in the first few rows. It’ll be at least a half hour before he makes it all the way back to you in row 15. So you patiently wait as you listen to the refreshing sound of cans of soda and beer being opened.
Finally, he’s only two rows away and the sweet yet repugnant smell of tomato juice hits your nose as passenger after delirious passenger orders the thick, salty concoction that they would never, ever order on the ground. You’re not sure whether to be repulsed or give into airplane peer pressure.
Both of the passengers seated next to you give in. The flight attendant splashes specks of red onto your crisp, white dress shirt as he pours their drinks. Unabated by the infraction on your personal space as his flabby, hairy arm reaches in front of you to pass the goopy drink over, you for a split second think about ordering tomato juice.
Alas, you think better, remembering that tomato juice should only be consumed with vodka, hot sauce, Worcestershire, and a garnishment of celery. Since it’s still morning, and you have a day full of business meetings, a Bloody Mary is not an option. You opt for water and wonder why everyone around you is sipping tomato juice without vodka.
According to some recent statistics release by Lufthansa, you’re not alone as you ask the deep question of why people order tomato juice on airplanes. Their poll revealed that 27 percent of passengers of the 1,000 passengers surveyed order tomato juice when flying. Of those tomato juice-sipping passengers, only 23% said they drink it on the ground.
A more sobering statistic also released by Lufthansa states that they serve about 53,000 gallons of tomato juice annually. That’s just shy of the 59,000 gallons of beer the German airline pours for customers. This is significant given that Germany is the third heaviest beer drinking country in the world.
So, what’s with airline passengers ordering tomato juice in the air?
Tomato juice is a substitute for free cocktails
Gone are the days when passengers could drink their fill in free booze to calm the nerves from flying. Guillaume De Syon, an aviation historian at Albright College, notes that when deregulation hit the airline industry in the 1970s and free drinks faded away, mixers were left on the menu. His theory is that passengers clung to tomato juice as a substitute to the now expensive Bloody Mary.