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Water on Most U.S. Airlines Is Unsafe, Says Study: Avoid Coffee, Tea and Even Washing Your Hands

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Have you noticed that some flight attendants don’t drink hot water during a flight? You may think that this is because they’re on duty. But you may be surprised to learn that some flight attendants never drink tea, coffee or hot water onboard an airplane.

Airplane Coffee and Tea Could Contain Poop and Other Bacteria

When you drink tea or coffee onboard an airplane, the water used to make the beverage comes from the tap, not from a bottle.


But the issue is that the plane’s tap water could contain disgusting things.

This water was found to contain coliform bacterial contamination – bacteria that indicate human fecal waste is present. Coliform bacteria are considered “indicator” bacteria, as they come from the same sources as pathogenic organisms like E. coli.

The EPA took samples of water from 158 planes and they found that 12.6% of the samples contained various forms of bacteria, including coliform bacterial contamination. This bacteria indicates that human fecal waste is present. Water from two planes had dangerous E. coli. bacteria. The EPA found that one out of every eight planes failed the agency’s standards for water safety.

Where does the bacteria come from?

The bacteria in the water could be related to how water is transported to the plane. A 2015 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that more microorganisms exist inside the water service vehicles than in the original source. The organisms are then passed from the truck to the plane.

Water on Most U.S Airlines is Unsafe

According to a 2019 Airline Water Study highlighted by, many of the U.S.’s top airlines are not providing safe drinking water.

The 2019 Airline Water Study ranks 11 major and 12 regional airlines mainly by the quality of water they provided onboard its flights. Each airline was given a “Water Health Score” (5 = highest rating, 0 = lowest) based on 10 criteria, including fleet size, ADWR violations, positive E. coli and coliform water sample reports and cooperation in providing answers to water-quality questions.

A score of 3.0 or better indicates that the airline has relatively safe, clean water.

The major airlines receiving the highest Airline Water Health Score are Allegiant and Alaska – each with a score of 3.3 on a 0-to-5 scale. Hawaiian Airlines is a close second at 3.1.

Airline Water Health Scores At-a-Glance (5 = highest rating, 0 = lowest):

Major Airlines

Alaska Airlines: 3.3, Allegiant Air: 3.3, Hawaiian Airlines: 3.1, Frontier Airlines: 2.6, Southwest Airlines: 2.4, Delta Air Lines: 1.6, American Airlines: 1.5, United Airlines: 1.2, JetBlue: 1, Spirit Airlines: 1

Regional Airlines

Piedmont Airlines: 4.33, Sun Country Airlines: 2.78, Envoy Air: 2.11, GoJet Airlines: 2, Trans States Airlines: 1.78, Compass Airlines 1.22, PSA Airlines: 1.22, SkyWest Airlines 1.11, Endeavor Air: 0.78, Air Wisconsin Airlines: 0.68, ExpressJet Airlines: 0.56, Republic Airways: 0.44

Want to see how the water on your favorite airline checked out? Take a look at the full study for all the dirty details.

Why You Should Think Twice Before Drinking Tap Water on a Plane, According to a Flight Attendant

According to one flight attendant, the tanks that store water on planes are rarely cleaned.


“I won’t drink the tap water,” says Jenny, who has worked for a major airline for 20 years and spoke on the condition that her full name not be used. “I just don’t always trust the cleanliness of the aircraft and the testing of it.”

A 2015 study on aircraft water quality found that the water tanks are “conducive for microbial growth.”

The Association of Flight Attendants commented that “Water onboard is regulated under the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure safe drinking water on the aircraft.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA pushed for this regulation over 15 years ago. The regulation gives broad discretion to airlines on how often they must test the water and flush the tanks. AFA does not believe this regulation goes far enough or is sufficiently enforced.”

Other Harmful Things Flying Does to Your Body

1. Getting sick

According to the journal of Environmental Health Research, you are 100 times more likely to catch a cold when you’re on a plane. If anyone on the plane sneezes, airborne particles travel all around the cabin.

They disperse in all directions and can reach you even if you’re sitting 50 feet (15 meters) from the potentially ill person who just sneezed (and in this regard you can watch this animation that shows how sneeze particles travel inside an airplane, including tips what you can do to reduce your risk of catching an infection).

Other diseases lurk around the plane too. Some are non-specific to flying, such as food poisonings caused by E.coli and salmonella.


You are probably aware that you shouldn’t consume water from the airplane’s toilet. Drink only bottled water. According to the UK’s Environmental Protection Agency, 15 % of the water on planes carries fecal matter. Some even advise against washing your hands on the plane and using antibacterial wet wipes instead. If you do wash your hands at the sink, use plenty of soap.

2. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Every year, thousands of people die of blood clots that form in the legs due to prolonged inactivity. DVT is an extremely dangerous condition that requires immediate attention.

Warning signs:

  • Leg Swelling – in one or both legs.
  • Pain in one or both legs – this may occur only when you walk or stand.
  • Warmth in the skin of the affected leg.
  • Red or discolored skin in the affected leg.
  • Visible surface veins.

What can you do to prevent DVT?

Wear compression stockings whenever you are taking a longer flight. Keep hydrated and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Most importantly, keep moving! Do some simple feet exercises, stretch your legs, walk up and down the cabin to improve your blood circulation.

3. Breathing difficulties

Breathing can get disturbed as a result of reduced oxygen levels and lower humidity. When you fly, it’s a bit like being in the mountains. Due to high altitude, the respiratory system has to work harder to provide the body with sufficient amount of oxygen. Moreover, humidity falls below 25% (ideally, it should be between 35% and 45%), which makes the breathing additionally harder.

4. Hearing impairment

Airplane can be a very noisy environment, especially if you are seated close to the engine. You can be exposing yourself to a potential hearing damage. If you are a passenger sitting at the back of the plane, your risk is often greater than that of a flight attendant who constantly moves around the plane.


According to the British National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the noise on the plane reaches 95 to 105 decibels. During takeoff, it goes to 115 and beyond. The safety limit set by the NIOSH is 84 decibels for four hours and 85 for eight hours.

If you are on flights longer than 4 hours and you are sitting close to the engine, the risk of hearing impairment becomes higher. Consider using noise-reducing headphones which can make the exposure tolerable and cut it down by up to 40 decibels.

6. Jet lag

This is a common nuisance air passengers have to deal with when crossing time zones. We talk of circadian rhythm sleep disorder, which is medically known as ‘desynchronosis’. Sleeplessness related to long haul flights can make you feel irritable and tired, and causes concentration problems and loss of appetite. But these troubles are quite minute compared to the possible long-term dangers.

A study published in The Lancet in 2007, revealed that on-going disruption of body rhythms can lead to cognitive decline, psychotic and mood disorders and even heart disease and cancer.

7. Radiation

Not many people consider this, but during a flight you get exposed to a dose of radiation from cosmic rays. The amount of radiation depends on the length of your flight, the altitude, and proximity to the North Pole. It has been calculated that on a flight from Washington to Beijing, you can receive a higher dose of radiation than when you take a chest X-ray.

If you are a frequent flyer, you shouldn’t ignore the dangers of cosmic radiation. People who travel seldom have less to worry about.

8. Constipation

A lot of people experience difficulty with their bowel movements after they’ve taken a flight. When you sit for a prolonged period of time, metabolic rate and digestion slow down. This can cause bloating, gassiness and constipation. The stress of flying and traveling can be an additional factor that causes your digestive system to shut down.

The best way to avoid this irritation is to remember to keep moving during the flight. Just shifting from side to side can help. Also, avoid high calorie intake and drink plenty to stay sufficiently hydrated.

Further reading: Read my article about the 10 best natural remedies for constipation.

9. Problems with taste

Your taste buds get affected too. Plane air dries out the mucus membranes in your mouth and reduces your sensitivity to taste. The ability to taste salty and sweet drops by as much as 30%, as described in a study conducted by Lufthansa in 2010.

The best solution is to drink lots of water and go for spicy, sour and bitter food that your taste buds have less difficulty detecting.

10. Halitosis – bad breath

This embarrassing condition can develop very quickly when you fly. Your saliva production slows down, which makes the bacteria in your mouth flourish. Combine this with excessive consumption of sugary drinks, sweets and fast food, and you’ve created the perfect environment for the bacteria to thrive. Bad breath is caused by a sulphur compound that gets formed as food particles in your mouth disintegrate.

To combat halitosis, eat healthy, drink water and brush your teeth during the flight. Also read my previous article about 7 ways to treat bad breath naturally.

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