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I live in Ireland and was hoping to go with my friend to Los Angeles in December of this year and it seems that the American carriers (United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta) are cheaper than British Airways or Aer Lingus

He just turned 20 last month and I'm 22. It will be a long flight from Dublin to Vancouver so we want to drink. The thing is, I'm not sure what the rules regarding the purchase of alcohol are on flights.

When I went to New York 2 years ago during Christmas using Delta, I asked for alcohol and the flight attendant denied me as I was 'under-age'. By this I take it that the minimum age on American air carriers is the same as the one in the U.S, 21yrs old.

I was told it's determined either by the airline carrier that one is travelling with or the minimum age in the destination/origin country.

Even though I could drink in Ireland as the age is 18, I was seen as underage. What would the age limit be if travelling to Canada from Ireland?

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    Could you clarify the itinerary? I don't think there is a Dublin-Vancouver direct flight. Additionally it is very unlikely for an American carrier to operate an EU-Canada flight, it is usually an European or Canadian airlines that actually operate the EU-Canada leg, even if your ticket is issued by an American carrier and includes a transfer in Vancouver. – xngtng May 8 at 19:50
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    Just one point FYI, in the US the alcohol drinking age varies by the "state", it's not a "federal" thing. – Fattie May 9 at 13:42
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    @Fattie It would be more accurate to say that each state can and does establish its own rules. In practice, 21 is the legal drinking age in every state, due to a federal law that imposes a 10% penalty on federal highway funding for states with a lower age. – chepner May 9 at 14:03
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    i think the key point in all this is alcohol age limits are, very simply, set by each airline, and have no connection at all to national laws, whether you are flying over antartica, etc. Zach has simply and clearly answered the whole question in a sentence – Fattie May 9 at 14:18
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    Just what I need on a long flight: a mini frat house in the seats next to me. – Ben Crowell May 10 at 14:15
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All of United, Delta, and American have set a policy of a drinking age of 21.

But as others have noted, the relevant question here is the policy of the airline actually operating your flight, which may well be a different airline, so you'd need to figure out your proposed itinerary and research the policy of the operating carrier. A European or Canadian airline may have different rules.

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    Can the airline set a policy which doesn't quite match the law? For example can they set the drinking age to 22 "as a policy" even though legally people can drink when they're 21? In Canada this would seem like a Charter violation (treating 22-year-olds unequally compared to 21-year-olds). – user1271772 May 9 at 21:20
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    I suppose that would depend on the law governing the airline. There are a number of situations where businesses can impose restrictions greater than the law (see, for instance, car rental companies setting minimum ages or other qualifications greater than that required for driver licensing, but see also jurisdictions that have set limits on that), but they'd still have to comply with any applicable anti-discrimination law if any is relevant. – Zach Lipton May 9 at 23:19
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    @user1271772 Yes. While aircraft are in the air, the law of the country of aircraft registration applies, in most cases. The main exceptions are related to air safety. Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Convention – David Wheatley May 9 at 23:52
  • @DavidWheatley So the airline can set the drinking age to be 22? Zach: do car rental companies restrict people based on age, or do they restrict people based on whether or not they have car insurance, which happens to be something for which age comes into account? – user1271772 May 10 at 0:22
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    @user1271772 (1) The Charter does not apply to private actors in most cases; human rights codes do though. (2) Age-discrimination is more or less tolerated in many aspects of life (voting, alcohol, insurances, student and seniors discount). (3) Even under the Charter for the government, Ontario's age of majority is 18, yet the age of alcohol service is 19. It is usually "easy" to "justify" this kind of age discrimination based on the least of evidence. – xngtng May 10 at 5:22
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The limits on serving alcohol are going to be mainly governed by the the company rules of the airline operating the flight. There may be additional restrictions from the country of the airspace you are in.

On a flight from Dublin to Vancouver you will be in the airspace of only Ireland or Canada (possibly Greenland). All of those permit drinking by 20 year olds, so you are both fine from a legal point of view.

An airline may choose to follow the rules of its parent nation, or any other rules it chooses. Canadian or European airlines are unlikely to forbid serving alcohol to a 20 year old. A US one might. The only reasonable way to find out is to ask.

Note that the airline that sold you the ticket may not be the operating airline. You should be able to ask which airline is operating the flight though.

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    I don't think the airspace usually matter too much, at least for the US and Canada. For someone flying from Canada to US or vice versa, any WestJet or Air Canada flight would serve anyone over 18, but Delta or Alaska would only allow people over 21. Yet Porter Airlines would only serve people over 19 because they are based in Ontario where the drinking age is 19 (whereas AC and WS are based in Quebec and Alberta resp. where the age limit is 18). – xngtng May 8 at 23:03
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    This could not be more wrong. Aircrafts are, when airborne, for all practical purposes subject to the jurisdiction of the place of registration. Company rules may of course be stricter when it comes to drinking age, but the legislation of the coutry, in which airspace the aircraft is flying, is of no relevance. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo May 9 at 15:17
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo Then why is there no in-flight wifi when flying over India. – AndreKR May 9 at 19:20
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo the US certainly imposes legal requirements on flights operating in its airspace even if they don't touch US soil (for example, flights between Mexico and Canada). I don't know whether these extend to drinking age, but there's no reason why they couldn't. – phoog May 9 at 20:50
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    @AndreKR Because of security restrictions and not civil legislation. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo May 9 at 23:36
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This is sort of a comment but it has outgrown in length the comment box. For the question directly: we do not know, it depends on which airline are you flying -- however, you can deduce that from the airport where you are transferring. Here's how.

A US carrier carrying passengers from Canada to the European Union directly would be a Seventh Freedom flight (list of freedoms)

the right or privilege, in respect of scheduled international air services, granted by one State to another State, of transporting traffic between the territory of the granting State and any third State with no requirement to include on such operation any point in the territory of the recipient State, i.e the service need not connect to or be an extension of any service to/from the home State of the carrier.

However,

ICAO characterizes all "freedoms" beyond the Fifth as "so-called" because only the first five "freedoms" have been officially recognized as such by international treaty.

In short, no such thing exists. A Canada-EU nonstop flight can only be operated by

  1. A Canadian airline
  2. An EU airline
  3. Another airline coming from or going to their home state, using Canada or EU as a stopover, a so called Fifth Freedom Flight. These are are rare especially in Canada: Cathay used to do a Hong Kong - Vancouver - New York (1996-2020, it was stopped independently of covid, it was losing money) and right now I believe the only one is the Beijing-Montreal-Havana flight by Air China. So to the best of my knowledge, there's none with a Canada-EU leg. There are a few Fifth Freedom flights with US-EU legs both in the (home airport)-US-EU and in the US-EU-(home airport) configuration but nothing with Canada.

In theory, a US carrier could do a Fifth Freedom flight but typically such flights exist because the home airport is very far away like Singapore or Cook Islands and are pretty much forced to land inbetween. A relatively recent (pre-covid) list can be found here.

And all this matters because now we now know the transfer airport is home state for the carrier as it doesn't have (or use) the freedoms to do otherwise. If it's a US airport then it's a US airline and you can check Wikipedia which airline has a hub there to figure it out, like Dallas is AA, Minneapolis is Delta and Houston / Chicago / Newark is United (luckily enough there are no direct flights to JFK which is both a DL and an AA hub). If it's an EU airport then the operating carrier must be either a Canadian or an EU airline (Air Canada, Westjet and Air Transat are Canadian so they are always a possibility, Amsterdam can be KLM, Frankfurt can be Lufthansa, Paris can be Air France, London can be British Airways).

Stealing an infographics from https://transportgeography.org/contents/chapter5/air-transport/air-freedom-rights/ (first is airspace transit, second is technical stop, the rest are self explanatory)

enter image description here

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    I deleted my comments. – phoog May 10 at 1:27
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Because the airline may apply its own rules, or the rules of a jurisdiction over which it flies, or departs from, or lands at, the best answer will come from the operating carrier, the airline that actually provides the airplane and crew.

Whatever they say the rules are...is what the rules are. Ask them.

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