Most people probably don’t think about the quality of water on the airlines they fly with. On the other hand, if you are an experienced flyer, you probably avoid ordering brewed tea or coffee because you have noticed a difference in the taste or visible condition of the water. Earlier this year there was a study released which ranked 10 major airlines and 13 regional airlines that exposed the quality of drinking water for each. In 2011, the EPA developed the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule (ADWR) which requires airlines to provide safe drinking water to their crew and passengers aboard. This study conducted by Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center and DietDetective.com revealed that many airlines may have been providing unhealthy water to passengers and crew members for years! (Platkin, p.1, 2019)
How is Aircraft Water Regulated?
The Aircraft Drinking Water Rule was put into place to ensure crew members and passengers have access to clean drinking water through the joint forces of different organizations. The EPA monitors the systems that supply water to aircrafts and airports, the FDA regulates water used for preparation of meals and drinks, and the FAA regulates operations and maintenance of aircraft potable water systems (EPA, p.1, 2019).
“The number of ADWR violations by all airlines in 2018 was significantly less than the number in 2012, the first year after the ADWR was enacted. For major airlines, violations have decreased 69% (262 to 81), while violations among regional airlines have decreased 71% (351 to 103). However, the decrease might reflect a lack of enforcement by the EPA, which has issued few penalties in recent years” (Hunter College NYC/Diet Detective, p.1, 2019).
The study rated the water quality of airline companies from 0-5 (0 being the lowest, 5 being the highest) based on criteria including but not limited to “fleet size, ADWR violations, positive E. coli and coliform water sample reports and cooperation in providing answers to water-quality questions” (Hunter College NYC/Diet Detective, p.1, 2019). A score of 3.0 or higher suggests the airline offers rather clean and safe water for human consumption.
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
Spirit Airlines, 1 (Criss, p.1, 2019).
How can you protect yourself on board?
It is suggested that while on board an aircraft, do NOT drink water that isn’t from a sealed bottle or container (per TSA regulations, you cannot bring your own bottles filled with liquid that are more than 3.4 oz in your carry-on baggage through security, but you can buy bottled water in the shops afterwards) (TSA, p.1), do not order coffee or tea during flight refreshments, and bring your own hand sanitizer to use instead of washing your hands in the restroom.
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Sources and further readings:
Platkin, Charles – Airline Water Study, 2019
EPA, Aircraft Drinking Water Rule, 2019
Airline Water Study 2019 – Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center / DietDetective.com , 2019 https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/airline-water-study-2019-300913071.html
Criss, Doug – Water Quality: You May Want To Skip the Coffee on These Two Airlines, 2019
TSA, Liquids Rule