Here’s something to consider before you board your next flight home for the holidays or set off on vacation: The water on airplanes is apparently filthy. It’s so filthy, in fact, that researchers are urging passengers not to wash their hands in the aircraft bathroom. Seriously.
A recent study conducted by Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center found that many popular airlines have been providing passengers with unhealthy faucet water. To come to this conclusion, they investigated 11 major airlines and 12 regional airlines, then scored them from 0 to 5 (5 being the best). The scores were based on 10 criteria, including things like fleet size, positive E. coli and coliform water sample reports, and knowledge of/willingness to answer questions on water quality.
In addition to these criteria, they also counted the number of times each airline violated the federal government’s Aircraft Drinking Water Rule (ADWR), which requires air carriers to “ensure that a safe and reliable supply of drinking water is provided to aircraft passengers and crew.” Under the ADWR, airlines must take samples from their water tanks to test for coliform bacteria and possible E. coli, and they are also required to disinfect and flush each aircraft’s water tank four times per year.
As for the results? Well, they are unsettling, to say the least. According to the study, only three of the 11 major airlines sampled achieved this score, along with just one of the 12 regional airlines. The worst among the major airlines? Spirit and JetBlue, each with a score of 1. What’s more, “nearly all regional airlines, except Piedmont, have poor Water Health Scores and a large number of ADWR violations,” the study states.
The good news is that not all airplane water was deemed undrinkable. “Alaska Airlines and Allegiant win the top spot with the safest water in the sky, and Hawaiian Airlines finishes No. 2,” said Charles Platkin, PhD, JD, MPH, the executive director of the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, in a press release.
Still, in order to protect yourself potential pathogens, authors of the study suggest not washing your hands in the aircraft bathroom and using alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead. It’s also not a good idea to brush your teeth or wash your face on the plane.
And keep in mind that faucet water is used for more than just washing your hands — it’s also used to make the tea and coffee served on board. The study warns that airlines with poor scores may have E. coli present in their water, so there is potential for disease-causing bacteria to be ingested and you to become sick. Bottom line: Never drink water onboard unless its from a sealed bottle.