Why You Should NOT Drink the Water on the Plane

Don't drink water on the plane

The water that comes out of the taps on planes is gross and you shouldn’t drink it!

The tanks that hold the water on planes are rarely (if ever) cleaned, making it a prime place for nasty things like bacteria and microbes to thrive.

The good news is, we do serve bottled water, which is safe to drink! But let’s look at this issue a little closer, with a microscope, perhaps.

What’s in the Water?

A series of studies have been done to test the water quality on planes across a number of different airlines.

A study conducted by the New York City Food Policy Center, located at Hunter College, found that the tap water on planes contained harmful strains of bacteria, including E. coli. 🤢

The study ranked the safety of various airlines’ tap water on a scale from 0-5, with 5 being the cleanest.

Piedmont Airlines, which is a regional carrier for American Eagle, has the cleanest water, scoring a 4.33, but I still wouldn’t drink it.

Airlines know the tap water is nasty, that’s why they often have signs in the lavatories stating that the water isn’t “potable” which means it’s not drinkable.

If you want to drink water in-flight, drink the bottled water.

Coffee, Tea, or Bacteria?

Even if it isn’t safe to drink regular tap water on the planes, surely, it’s okay to drink the coffee or tea, right?

The water flight attendants use to brew coffee and tea is boiling and that should kill the nasty bacteria, in theory. That said, I still wouldn’t drink the hot beverages served from the cart. Why?

The carafes that flight attendants use to transport coffee and tea through the cabin are supposed to be cleaned daily, but that doesn’t always happen. 

Some flight attendants won’t drink the hot water at all; even when it comes directly from the tap. But that’s not a ubiquitous decision. I drank hot water from the tap pretty often and never got sick.

If you want tea or coffee on a long flight, wait until after the beverage service and go ask for it directly in the galley. This way, your hot water or coffee is more likely to come directly from the tap, or the clean metal coffee pots.

Airline Drinking Water Requirements

Airlines are required by law to provide passengers with clean, safe drinking water. This is why we rely on bottled water. It’s not great for the environment but it is the surest way to serve passengers high quality water.

In the US airline tap water is regulated by the EPA and even though most airlines fail to meet the standards set, they are rarely fined.

The water on airplanes is tested every-once-in-a-while and if harmful bacteria or other contaminants are found airlines are required to thoroughly disinfect the water tanks. The reality is, however, this typically only happens a few times a year.

What Is the Water Safe For?

Now that you know the water on planes can host harmful bacteria you might be wondering what the water can and cannot be used for. Here are a few examples for you.

  • Washing your hands: Even though there might be bacteria in the water you should still use soap and water to wash your hands after using the lavatory. In fact, please wash your hands!
    If it feels safer to use hot water, you can actually adjust the water temperature on most airplane faucets. Just look for a little button or dial, turn it to your desired setting and then let the water run for a few seconds to heat up.
    If you want to be extra safe, just use a little hand sanitizer when you get back to your seat.
  • Brushing your teeth: Some airlines will provide you with a toothbrush and toothpaste on long-haul flights, but is it safe to brush your teeth?
    Theoretically, yes. That said, I almost always bring a bottle of water with me to the lavatory if I’m going to brush my teeth on the plane. I just pour a little bottled water on my toothbrush, brush my teeth and rinse with some more bottled water. It’s the safest bet.

Final Thoughts

It is common wisdom among flight crews not to drink tap water on planes. Now you know why.

There is safe bottled water available on planes and you definitely should drink it, (the environment on airplanes is naturally dehydrating).

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