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The mysterious popularity of ginger ales on airlines

A recent article on identifies a trend in American aviation catering: The surprisingly high demand for ginger ale on America’s planes.

Why ginger ale, and not Coke, 7UP, or Bloody Mary mix? The most popular theory among flight attendants is that it relieves nausea. “If [passengers] have motion sickness, it settles their stomach,” says Elizabeth Rogers, a flight attendant for Mesaba Airlines.

The lack of caffeine may be a further motivating factor, both for people worried about becoming dehydrated during the flight and for those who don’t consume caffeine for health or religious reasons. “Mormons don’t drink caffeine, so they have a tendency to drink ginger ale,” says Gail Phillips, a flight attendant for United Airlines. Then there’s the novelty factor: “They hear someone else order it, and then everyone else wants it too,” says Penny Sandahl, a flight attendant for Mesaba.

And the trend is apparently real. A from 2007 quotes a study showing that 10% of inflight beverages on American Airlines were ginger ale, vs. 3% of soft drink sales in the overall market. That’s pretty impressive.

I am guilty of feeding into this. If I’m sitting in domestic coach, I am much more likely to order a ginger ale than any other soft drink. And I’m not entirely sure why.

Some of the theories are plausible, but I’m not sure they work for me. Is it the stomach calming effect of ginger? I’m usually pretty mellow in-flight, but perhaps I’ve got some latent anxiety. It’s an unlikely explanation.

Is it the relative novelty of ginger ale? I don’t see ginger ale on a regular basis on menus, or in my cafeteria at work. So perhaps it’s just the “hey, I haven’t thought about ginger ale in a while” effect?

Or was it once based on those reasons, and has now become conditioned behavior? After this many flights, perhaps I have just come to associate air travel with ginger ale.

I still find it amusing that this is being identified as a trend. The trend goes further, at least for me: I rarely drink ginger ale outside of flights in domestic coach. (Flying up front domestically? It’s probably a gin and tonic. International? Depends on the airline, but I tend toward the wine list.)

So, when you’re strapped in, and the plane has risen above 10,000 feet, and the beverage cart comes out, what’s your drink? Ginger ale?… Hit the comments.