The Proposed Airport Liquor Carts: Much-needed Escape Or Perpetual Spring Break?

[from The A.V. Club Chicago, with David Wolinsky / July 9, 2010]

Andrew: Looks like the party’s on at gate 34B, David. I don’t know if you heard, but our esteemed mayor Richard M. Daley has proposed granting liquor licenses to special alcohol carts at both O’Hare and Midway airports, and I have to admit I (for once) am totally on board with one of Daley’s get-out-of-the-hole-quick schemes. Yes, this is a great opportunity for the city to rake in some much-needed extra cash, but just imagine the beauty of pre-flight cocktails away from the grizzled flyers passing through the Halsted St. Tap at Midway, almost offensive in its cartoonish depiction of life in our fair city, or sipping a cold one without having to belly up alongside the herds gathered at any of the O’Hare Chili’s outposts. We may all be travelers on our way out of town, but now, thanks to the glory of booze on wheels, I’ll already be miles ahead, off to a magical place far, far away—a place whose beauty none of those strangers will ever know.

David: Oh, I heard bro, I heard. I’m sure you also heard about Daley’s recent push to increase the amount of liquor licenses along the lakefront to 25 to avoid raising taxes, even as last month saw a series of violent incidents in that very area—including a shooting—that city officials blamed on drinking. Now, I’m not saying that the push for more accessible alcohol everywhere in this city will usher in a perpetual state of spring break, or that the boozing isn’t already happening in the airports or on the beaches already, but Daley is basically raising a glass and telling the city to drink up, damn the consequences. Although it’s been nearly a decade since 9/11, airport security is still far from a joking matter: Earlier this year, former O’Hare security chief James Maurer says that airport is still vulnerable to terrorist attacks, supposedly because the city ignored his warnings about security concerns. Shouldn’t airport security be focused more toward preventing another terrorist attack, not chasing after girls about to go wild or roaming games of beer pong? I’m being somewhat facetious, of course, but remember that alcohol potency is much higher at greater altitudes, and that this won’t only encourage passengers to fly drunk, but also pilots. If you don’t think pilots aren’t flying drunk, guess again. Obviously, it won’t make straight-edgers or non-drinkers start drinking now, but it’ll only further encourage those already so inclined.

Andrew: Pre-flight womanizing? Drunken pilots? Terrorist plots? Seriously David, I think that’s a bit much, calling overpriced MGDs and box-grade wine threats to our national security. (And really, have you ever had a mixed drink at an airport? Trust me, properly sauced is about the only thing you won’t get with them.) I don’t know where this neo-Prohibitionism is coming from, but you and I both know there’s really no way Chicago’s drinking problem could get any worse without bourbon in the water supply; to say anyone’s being encouraged to drink themselves into oblivion by something as simple as a cart is to dismiss the demon rum’s true worth in this world—or in this city, for that matter. Now, you can call this the death of what little decency remains in Chicago’s unspoiled airports, or you can say the friendly skies just got a little friendlier, those hours once held hostage by our famously mediocre on-time departure rates all becoming a little happier thanks to the sweet goodbye kiss of hops and barley enjoyed in solitude. I choose to think positively.

David: Given how much of a surcharge booze gets on flights, and how expensive liquor licenses are, I can see the simple allure of this being a money-making venture for the city. But how does drinking on our beaches or at the airport help you or me, or people like us? Other than making us less self-conscious about our bodies, our bathing-suit areas, and our fear of flying, it’s just to funnel more cash in. (And if people aren’t drinking at the airport to get drunk, Andrew, why are they plunking down the money for it? They can already do so on the plane.) If Daley really wants to be progressive and tap into a new revenue stream for Chicago, why isn’t he pushing to make medical marijuana available to patients? It’s been legal for more than three decades, but needs another law passed to be bought and sold. Not to assume you don’t sympathize with glaucoma and cancer sufferers, but how much profit from the airports will wind up trickling back to the city? It’s well-established that O’Hare customer satisfaction is in dire straits, and assuming a large portion of this money goes toward maintenance and upgrades, what will we really be getting from this other than more watered-down rum and cokes before boarding at our gate? More to the point, doesn’t this strike you as more than a little odd that this sudden new priority largely benefits people leaving this city? Shouldn’t we be rewarded for staying here? Or is that why the airports are so damn miserable in the first place, to prevent us from ever trying to leave?