Only Three American Airlines Have Water Deemed Safe for Drinking

It's worth packing an extra bottle

Airline Water Safety
By Tanner Garrity / November 14, 2019 5:05 am

A couple months back, we shared the two drinks you should never ask for on an airplane: coffee and tea. The quality of the aircraft water used to make those beverages is horrendous. According to a 2015 report, 37 different forms of bacteria were discovered in on-board water, including E. coli. What’s going on? Long-haul flights pick up water from countries with lower sanitation standards, then house it in in pipes that are rarely cleaned.

A September study by Hunter College’s Food Policy Center and dietdetective.com took it one step further, and assessed the water on 10 major carriers and 11 regional airlines. Testing based on factors like fleet size, violations of ADWR (the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule, passed in 2011), and water sample reports, the study assigned each airline a score from 0 to 5, where 5 is healthiest and anything above 3 indicates healthy, safe drinking water.

Only three major airlines were above 3: Alaska Airlines (3.3), Allegiant Air (3.3), and Hawaiian Airlines (3.1). And only one regional carrier was above 3, though it obliterated the mark. Piedmont Airlines, a subsidiary of American Airlines, with hubs in Charlotte and Philadelphia, scored an impressive 4.33. The rest of the pack blew it, though. Prominent disappointments from major airlines include Southwest (2.4) and United (1.2), while Spirit, surprising no one, rolled in with a 1.

The big takeaways here? The EPS isn’t enforcing ADWR, and more often than not, airplane water is either not safe to drink, or could be way better. We’re not big fans of buying plastic water bottles (as we’ve discussed in the past), so we recommend bringing a couple and filling them up at the airport. Most airports in America now have those bottle-saving water fountain filter systems, so you should be good to go. Interestingly, the people behind this study even recommend avoiding airplane water for washing your hands. So it might be smart to have a hand sanitizer handy, too.

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