No More Cash On Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines will no longer be accepting cash for drinks on board their flights. The airline will “accept credit and debit cards and Rapid Rewards drink coupons for items that carry a fee, which also includes cocktails and energy drinks.” [CNNMoney]


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  1. Walrii says:

    It’s about time! The amount of coins and dollar bills they must be forced to carry is surely weighing down the plane. Now, they’ll be able to get better fuel mileage and pass on the savings to their customers.

    What ever happened to cash being acceptable as payment in all debts? If they give me a drink, I owe them money. That sounds like a debt to me.

    • tedyc03 says:

      @Walrii: Nope. When you buy something from a store, the transaction does not create a debt on your part, not according to the law. You can pay your mortgage with cash, or your cell phone bill, or for services rendered (a restaurant that provides services before receiving payment for example), but they are giving you the drink *after* receiving payment, so no debt is created. They can refuse service to you.

      I know, it sucks, but I learned this the hard way with a $100 bill. They don’t have to take it if they don’t want it as payment. Theoretically, they could require you to pay in seashells, but they wouldn’t stay in business long…

  2. dragonfire81 says:

    Won’t that SLOW DOWN the process, it takes more time to do a card transaction than for me to fish a few bills out of my pocket and pay for the darn thing.

    What’s with the rebellion against cash these days?

  3. SkokieGuy says:

    Me thinks that receiving cash requires someone on the plane to have to reconcile and submit the cash.

    And me thinks that the airlines don’t trust underpaid and overworked flight attendents who have to bear the public’s wrath for management’s decisions, cannot be trusted to handle cash.

    • flyingphotog says:


      Southwest’s flight attendants are neither underpaid nor overworked. They are the best-paid in the industry. But you got the last part right. It would not be difficult for someone to walk away with their rent money, when there’s no accountability.

  4. sir_pantsalot says:

    It might be that they don’t carry change. I was on a flight and ordered a drink and all I had was a 20. The guy took my 20 and was going to bring me change later. A second guy came around later and I got another drink and told him the first guy had my money. Before the flight ended the first guy said he couldn’t get any change and gave me back my 20. I told him about the 2nd drink and he said don’t worry about it.

  5. JustThatGuy3 says:

    If they accept cash, they have to:

    a) carry enough cash on each flight to make change
    b) get the cash to and from the planes
    c) track the cash and have accountability for it, even though the flight crew might change for every leg of a multi-hop journey

    It’s more trouble than it’s worth.

    And Walrii, if it’s a simultaneous transaction, then, no, it’s not a debt, so they don’t have to take cash.


    • RandomHookup says:

      @JustThatGuy3: Airlines, carry change? The only business I’ve ever been around (except for sleazy cabbies) where they sell stuff but can’t make change.

      • JustThatGuy3 says:


        Well, most stores have (a) a lot of transactions, and (b) a fixed physical location. Think of how much cash is in a drawer at a retailer. Then multiply that by hundreds of aircraft. Then imagine (essentially) having to true up the cash drawer between every flight. Southwest is famed for the quick turns their planes do (i.e. short time between landing and takeoff again) – their CEO once said that a plane sitting on the ground was doing one thing: “depreciating.” If they’re taking time between flights to handle the cash, it just isn’t worth it.

        • RandomHookup says:


          I’m not just talking about Southwest. All the airlines end up having to beg for change, which just comes across as poor business. Since all the transactions are in even dollars and they have the history to know about how many drinks they are going to sell, can’t they figure out a way to get change onto an airplane? They do with lots of other things, like meals and drinks.

          Plus flight attendants spend a lot of time sitting and waiting, in the air and on the ground. If balancing out is that important, they can do it then. Heck, even giving the purser an advance and having her make change from the advance would be a better method than the “we’ll be back with your change” routine now that most airlines charge for everything.

  6. Corporate_guy says:

    When I was on southwest they did not have change. So whenever someone had a 20 and no one else bought anything the flight attendant had to make an announcement asking for change from people. So this definitely saves time.

  7. Imakeholesinu says:

    Excellent idea from southwest.

  8. SabreDC says:

    How do they perform transactions with credit and debit cards? Doesn’t that require some type of communications link with credit companies/banks? Wouldn’t a communications link tamper with the plane’s electronics?

    • kc2idf says:


      How do they perform transactions with credit and debit cards? Doesn’t that require some type of communications link with credit companies/banks? Wouldn’t a communications link tamper with the plane’s electronics?

      “Interfere” might be a better word than “tamper,” but never mind . . .

      If the communications system in play was engineered around the limitations of the aircraft, then no, it will not cause a problem. Where problems crop up is when consumer-grade communications electronics are brought into the mix.

      As for them allowing Wi-Fi, this doesn’t typically introduce a very powerful signal, even compared with a cell phone. Additionally, in order to provide Wi-Fi, they will need some sort of standing air-to-ground digital link. I would expect that the credit card transactions would piggyback on that, and may even use the on-board Wi-Fi to connect the POS unit to that link.

      This will, of course, get hacked somewhere along the line.

  9. philipbarrett says:

    It’s stored on the handheld reader until the plane lands & the data can be uploaded.

  10. dmolavi says:

    cash is a problem here. as others have stated, it’s generally the making change part that’s tough. since most ATMs only spit out 20’s, the flight attendants can rapidly deplete their change supply. i’d rather give my credit/debit card and have a receipt right away than worrying about whether the flight attendent will remember, or be able to, give me change for a drink.

  11. wiIdcatlh says:

    On a Delta flight I was on from San Francisco to Atlanta recently they were taking debit/credit cards for food/drink purchases. The flight attendant had a small hand-held credit card machine that printed out a receipt. Not sure how it communicates with the ground, or if they just reconcile it at the end of the day or what have you.

  12. rkerr880 says:

    I was on a SWA flight recently and a member of the Flight-Crew announced this was coming in September. At the same time he said Wi-Fi access would also be coming in September. I wonder if the two are linked? Need the Wi-Fi for credit verification? I haven’t seen any announcement of Wi-Fi on the SWA site.

  13. ideagirl says:

    I am just not comfortable leaving my payment data on the plane like that. Dang it!

  14. bologna_wallet says:

    So if the data is stored until landing, what’s to prevent someone from using an invalid card? It sounds like Southwest wouldn’t learn that until the plane has landed.

  15. Ubert says:

    I’m all for SWA doing away with cash. I can’t remember the last time I carried cash on me. As long as I get a receipt, I’m a happy guy.

  16. Riddler says:

    I really think Southwest should sell their drink tickets at a customer service desk or at the gate. Just a thought.

  17. digitalgimpus says:

    And me thinks that the airlines don’t trust underpaid and overworked flight attendents who have to bear the public’s wrath for management’s decisions, cannot be trusted to handle cash.

    THIS sounds like the most logical reason. Remember with credit cards they are paying merchant fees. Assuming that’s 1%, and assuming a plane does $1k per flight (assuming 2 people by 1 coke each). That’s $10 a flight. Assuming 3,400 flights a day (according to their fact sheet []) that’s $34,000/day. Multiply by 365 and you have $12,410,000 in merchant fees alone.

    I suspect they often do more than $1k per flight for their cross country flights, especially at their prices and considering they have lots of business travelers who can expense it.

    • rkerr880 says:

      @digitalgimpus: FYI – SWA does not, at present, charge for coke or any other softdrink. Water, coffee, tea and the like are also provided at no additional fee. So you will only need your card if you want alcohol or “energy” drinks.

    • flyingphotog says:


      Southwest doesn’t charge for Cokes.

      Chase bank is sponsoring this whole gig for Southwest, and paying for most of the equipment cost by advertising on the equipment which the flight attendants will carry. Southwest will be paying very little out-of-pocket.

      • digitalgimpus says:

        @flyingphotog: Equipment is cheap when you really think about it. It’s a one time cost of a few hundred dollars a piece. It’s the transaction fees that kill.

  18. digitalgimpus says:

    I should also note 1% transaction fee is low… I’m sure they pay more.

  19. Fly Girl says:

    I just wanted to point out that the reactions to this announcement are pretty different than some of the outrage that was expressed over Alaska’s switch to a “cashless cabin.” C’mon, fellow Consumerists… I know everybody around here is a Southwest Fanboy, but let’s not be hypocrites… Gimmee some outrage!

  20. dohtem says:

    For you guys that like to fly drunk, here’s a solution.

    – Buy Duty free alcohol at the airport.
    – They’ll hand it to you right before you board in a sealed plastic bag. (You are not supposed to open the bag until you are done with your journey.)
    – Buy Coca Cola (or your mixer of choice) on the plane.
    – Mix discreetly, enjoy.

    I met some fun people that did just that on a recent transatlantic flight.

  21. BrianDaBrain says:

    Make you pay for them, then take away options for paying. Seems fair to me……..

  22. Egg Yolkeo says:

    Restaurants give servers a “bank” from which to make change on cash transactions. The banks are counted at the end of the shift and the server must make up the difference. You’re telling me dime-a-dozen restaurant workers can be trusted to make change without stealing, but flight attendants cannot?

    • JustThatGuy3 says:

      @Egg Yolkeo:

      All the servers are in one place, and on continuous shifts. Imagine if the servers moved between multiple restaurants in multiple malls, and sometimes ended their workday several states away from where they started.

      Bottom line, cash is just too much of a hassle to be worth it.

    • samurailynn says:

      @Egg Yolkeo: That’s not how they did it when I was a server. I got hired and they said “don’t forget to bring your own bank”. I was responsible for having money on hand for change, and it was mine, so I was responsible for making sure I made change correctly.

  23. angryhippo says:

    Well… I guess I won’t get that quick drink on my 50-minute Burbank-Vegas Party Plane(tm).

  24. cubsd says:

    They give (or used to give) coupon books with free drinks to some of their frequent flyers. Why not let customers buy drink coupons online that can be printed at home with your boarding pass?

  25. mzhartz says:

    Every time I’m on a Southwest flight, there’s always an announcement asking if someone has change for a 20. So this doesn’t surprise me.

    I do agree, drink tickets should be able to easily be purchased right before you get on the plane though.

  26. SabreDC says:

    If they scan the cards with handheld readers and upload the transactions at a later time, then how can they verify that the account is real? I’m sure they validate that the credit card number is well-formed, but I’m assuming they can’t verify the account using a batch upload at the end of the day or something.

    Doesn’t that open up the door to fraud? If I make my own credit card with a valid number, can’t they just charge that, give me my drink, and then have a failed upload… do they make you use a credit card with which you purchased the ticket? What if I use a work credit card to purchase the ticket but want to use a personal credit card for drinks?

    It just seems… rip-off-able.

    • LightLeigh says:

      @SabreDC: I can’t imagine that there are many people who would pay hundreds of dollars for a plane ticket just to scam a free drink. And using a fraudulent credit card on a flight of just a few hundred people where the FBI can access the real names and addresses of everybody sounds like a big risk. People could use a fake $20 just as easily as a fake credit card.

    • FLConsumer says:

      @SabreDC: You’re not that far off on your thinking. I’m 99% sure the transactions are processed once the plane has landed. The device they use will use the checksum algorithms to make sure the card’s #’s match up, but that’s all they have to go on until the transaction is run through.

      Could you “spoof” a number? Absolutely. Would it work? Most likely. Is it illegal? Yes. What’s not known: if the device asks for which seat ordered the drink; if so your plan isn’t real compatible with freedom.

      @Ben Popken: Any chance of a grope-n-go on the attractive stewardesses? Just think of the extra revenue the airlines could make off this! People would buy drinks just for the experience of “checking out”.

      @kc-guy: Taxes & alcohol while in-flight OVER a state have been a hotly-contested issue over the years. I know New Mexico got pissy last year over the airlines not having NM alcohol licenses. Don’t know what ever became of it.

  27. yetiwisdom says:

    Oh that is going to really piss off the flight attendants who have been taking a healthy skim off the top. Not all of them, just the naughty naughty ones.

  28. OsiUmenyiora says:

    Who the heck wants an “energy drink” on a plane??? Do you really want to be wired and twitchy when you’re stuck in an 18-inch space 36000 feet above ground?

  29. kc-guy says:

    sort of @mzhartz

    Does anybody know if there are tax/legal ramifications for selling liquor on an airplane vs. on the ground? Which state’s alcohol taxes does the airline pay anyway?

  30. Ben Popken says:

    Stewards will now have Tap-N-Go devices affixed to their rears.

  31. curtisawa says:

    Is it legal to not accept cash? I thought it said right on the bills that they are for all debts?

  32. cloryfreeborn says:

    I love this. I never have cash and hate having to try to obtain it before a flight. I hope this doesn’t limit the generosity of the stewardesses who for whatever reason like to provide me with free bourbon on my flights.