Why Do People Always Order Ginger Ale When They Fly?

Anecdotal experience shows that, upon boarding a plane, a thirst for ginger ale strikes. Is it true? “Fliers really do seek out ginger ale as an in-flight beverage,” says Rob Gallagher, veteran flight attendant and Virgin America’s manager of “inflight guest experience.”

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.

Ginger ale, of which the best-known brand is Canada Dry, originally rose to popularity in the United States as a mixer during Prohibition: Its sweet effervescence masked the taste of homemade hooch. Though people don’t typically order it as a mixer on planes, it’s not a bad idea. On Virgin America’s inaugural Fort Lauderdale flights in November 2009, the airline successfully used the soda in a cocktail called Elevate, which included VeeV açaí-infused organic vodka, ginger ale, and fresh lemon.

Interesting factoid: The type of ginger ale most commonly consumed in the U.S. is “dry” ginger ale. Another, older variety, called “golden” ginger ale, is more flavorful, colorful, and full-bodied. Ginger beer is an even fuller-bodied, more flavorful version of either of these ginger sodas, and can sometimes contain trace amounts of alcohol due to fermentation.

You can make your own ginger beer using CHOW.com’s recipe and instructional slideshow. But remember: You won’t be able to bring it on an airplane.

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