Business: Drys v. Wets

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U.S. airlines for 20 years have offered passengers a cheery glass aloft on foreign flights, on some domestic nights since 1949. But some Congressmen have long urged aerial prohibition, and last year the airlines headed off possible action by limiting passengers to two 1.6-oz. drinks on domestic flights. Even that is not enough for South Carolina's Senator Strom Thurmond and Oregon's Senator Richard L. Neuberger, both teetotalers. Last week, in two bills, they called for prohibition on both domestic and foreign nights.

"Flying saloons are a social problem," Thurmond hotly told an aviation subcommittee. President Rowland K. Quinn of the Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Association agreed. But Civil Aeronautics Board Vice Chairman Chan Gurney scoffed that the drys are all wet. CAB has checked 2,000 complaints in the last few years, and not a single one proved that liquor service jeopardized a flight's safety. In most instances where drunkenness was reported, the passenger had done his drinking before coming aboard.

Thurmond turned to four National Airlines' stewardesses, all appearing as witnesses against the bill, who brought in a pro-wet petition from 83 others. "I've never had a complaint about drinking," said Gene Rotroff. "I've had more about cigar smoking." Martha Ann Alexander pointed out that "even with the two-drink limit, I have found an increasing number of passengers bringing bottles on board.'' Michele Harvey told Thurmond she favors serving liquor "because most of the passengers like it." But don't stewardesses find their barmaid duties distasteful? pursued Thurmond. Answered Stewardess Harvey, a tapered, silvery blonde: "The ambitious girls would fly that service [liquor flights]. The lazy girls would fly the other one."

Air Transport Association President Stuart G. Tipton helped to drench me drys, and it looked as if the unimpressed committee was going to shelve the bill for another year. Aerial prohibition is not only unenforceable, said Tipton, but it would seriously hurt U.S. international carriers. Their passengers do most of the drinking, and if U.S. planes went dry, many Americans would fly on foreign lines.