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American Airlines Launched an Airplane Wine Club for I Don’t Know Who

BYO plastic cups

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People sit in a cramped row of an airplane with the seat-back tables down and a plastic cup of white wine in the foreground. ms.yenes/Shutterstock

Of all the things we miss about travel, the act of flying might be low on the list. After all, most of us have been channeling that whole “long haul flight vibe” just fine over the last 10 months: Stuck in one place with no sense of time, wearing comfortable pants, working your way through the robust Katherine Heigl film catalog before passing out in the same crumb-covered spot you ate dinner in an hour before. Some days I swear I’ll wake up in Paris.

But there’s one element of air travel that you probably haven’t been able to get during the pandemic, one that you might — well, somebody might — be missing: Airplane wine.

OK, let’s just pretend for a minute that this is true, that the only good thing about airplane wine isn’t that it’s sometimes free and does the trick of dulling your senses to the steel tube of chaos in which you sit. Even then, we’ve had no trouble finding our way to mediocre mass-market wine all on our own, without the added pleasure of a heavy bar cart slamming into our elbow.

But no matter! American Airlines has announced the launch of its first-ever at-home wine club anyway, which they’re somehow NOT calling American AirWines. The newly launched Flagship® Cellars wine experience, produced in partnership with Vinesse Wines, allows those nostalgic for the joys of warm cabernet to select from a “curated assortment of ultra-premium wines” from around the world, picked by an unnamed “Master Sommelier.” Anyone lucky enough to have traveled in American’s First Class cabin — and bored enough to look closely at a label of airplane wine — might already be familiar with some of the bottles on offer through Flagship, which are pulled from the stuff the airline usually pours in its upper classes.

The new at-home experience includes a flexible monthly subscription — three bottles for $99 — as well as a build-your-own-case option, both of which claim to offer high-quality wines at a savings. Current selections include a grand cuvee brut (NV Moutard Champagne, France ‘Grand Cuvee’ Brut) for $27, usually $40-ish; a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand (2019 Pounamu Marlborough, New Zealand ‘Special Selection’ Sauvignon Blanc) for $15.99, usually $24-ish; and an Oregon pinot (2015 Roserock Eola-Amity Hills ‘Drouhin’ Pinot Noir) for $27.99, usually $30-ish. There are mileage benefits, too, as customers earn two AAdvantage® mileage points for every dollar purchased — points that, these days, can be used on a whole lot more than air travel.

As others have pointed out, the move is likely less about sating the the unquenchable thirst of the #basic homebound traveler, and more about offloading unsold wine from the company cellars that are currently bursting — not to mention making a dent in the airline’s $3.2 billion dollars of lost revenue during the third quarter of 2020.

Listen, wine clubs are great. (Really, though.) They allow you to try wines you maybe wouldn’t select yourself, without having to make any decisions, go anywhere, or even remember that you need wine. It just ARRIVES. And truly, surprise booze is among life’s great pleasures. And while we may not have the best memories of in-flight quaffing, it might not be the wine’s fault. Altitude, air pressure, and lack of humidity are all known to drastically affect your sense of taste. That, and the fact that American Airlines has won kind of a lot of awards for its premium cabin wine program, means it might actually be worth a shot. Or, to quote the confident, hard sell language used in the airline’s own official press release, “Why not?” Now that’s the spirit.