Thanks to fierce competition among carriers, airline cuisine has got fancier with the input of celebrity chefs and tie-ups with five-star hotels. Think Joel Robuchon’s contribution to Air France food, or Regent Singapore to All Nippon Airways. So, when Virgin Atlantic and Emirates Airways announced their fancy new bars, cocktails were clearly the next order of business.

Unlike food, which tends to lose flavour up in the air, certain cocktails surprisingly hold their own against the high-altitude effect on sensory perceptions. “While our palates, taste buds and sense of smell change at that height, most cocktails contain an acidic component that is beneficial and counters the effects of dryness and diminishing taste,” says a representative from Singapore Airlines.

The trick is knowing which drinks to prepare. Says Joost Heymeijer, senior vice-president of catering for Emirates: “On-board an aircraft, mixologists are subjected to time constraints and limited choice of spirits (due to lack of space).” Herbs and flowers lose their freshness in a mere half an hour, and liqueurs and syrups have to be decanted into mandatory 100ml bottles.

“So, instead of changing the recipes of our cocktails for the air, we choose drinks that are well adapted to this environment,” says Georgia McDonnell-Adams, global trade manager at Absolut Vodka. The brand trains the flight attendants on Korean Air’s A380 bars.

Think cocktails with a strong spirit base (vodka proves popular up in the air) and a tinge of salt. Here are three to knock back.

Bloody Mary
Where to have it: Emirates.

bloody mary_0236-ret copy

Tomato juice is the most frequently ordered beverage in the air, so it makes sense that the Bloody Mary would be top pick. The strong, clean profile of the vodka complements the umami taste of the tomatoes. “Mixologists should keep the preferences of every passenger in mind – a spiced Bloody Mary is different for every person, so the amount of Worcestershire sauce to add will vary,” says Heymeijer.

Where to have it: Korean Air.


A generous dash of lemon juice gives the Collins cocktail a tartness that lingers on the palate. Using vodka in place of the usual gin also ups its flavour profile. “The Absolut Collins on Korean Air is a great balance of sweet and sour. Its tart notes will shine through more than the light, citrusy notes of a regular gin & tonic or a fruit martini,” says McDonnell-Adams.

Singapore Sling
Where to have it: Singapore Airlines (of course).

Singapore Sling made with gin, pineapple juice & cherry brandy

Feeling nostalgic? The familiar herbal notes of Benedictine Dom in the Singapore Sling give an extra edge to the mix of gin, cointreau and grenadine syrup. “The use of lime and pineapple also gives the cocktail a good amount of acidity to counter diminishing taste,” says a Singapore Airlines representative.