The People's Perspective on Medicine

Watch Out for Water on Airplanes

Do you ever drink the water on airplanes? Many people do. What about asking for tea or coffee? But is the water safe? Not according to a 2019 water study.
Concept aerophobia. Afraid of fear flying on an airplane and at height. drink water.

Frequent fliers often avoid drinking water on airplanes. That’s because they have been told that there are questions about the quality of water on airplanes. They just might be right.

Should You Drink the Water?

The 2019 Airline Water Study found a great deal of variability in water quality among different airlines (Airline Water Study 2019,, Sept. 4, 2019). 11 major and 12 regional airlines were included in the study, which looked for e. coli and coliform contamination in water samples.

Alaska and Allegiant airlines had the safest water with Hawaiian Airlines a close second. Airlines that did not score so well included JetBlue and Spirit Airlines.

Among regional airlines Piedmont did well but Republic scored low. Researchers recommend avoiding unbottled water, coffee and tea on most flights. Instead of washing your hands in the bathroom bring along your own hand sanitizer.

Why is Water on Airlines So Scary?

The people who reported on the 2019 Airline Water Study offered these scathing comments:

• “The “Shame on You” Award goes to the EPA and nearly all major airlines (regional airlines weren’t contacted) for their very poor response time and lack of cooperation answering detailed questions. The EPA didn’t answer most penalty-related questions, and Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier did not respond to any questions. Very weak responses – and responses that didn’t address questions – were provided by American, United, and JetBlue, which had a large number of violations during the past seven years.

• “Testing for coliform bacteria is important, because their presence in drinking water indicates that disease-causing organisms (pathogens) could be in the water system.”

One “bottom-line” recommendation about water on airplanes from this study”

• “NEVER drink any water onboard that isn’t in a sealed bottle,”

Reader Comments:

How do you deal with water on airlines? Do you order tea or coffee? Have you ever gotten sick after traveling on an airplane? We’re especially interested in digestive tract problems. Please share your story in the comment section.

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    About the Author
    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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    Thanks for the advice about bringing my own hand sanitizer. I always bring my own water. Drink a juice that’s been in a container and drink wine!

    In what way is the water bad?

    I usually only travel to Florida for vacation and I never understood why after only a day in Florida I would end up with loose bowels. I always thought it was something I ate after getting off the plane, but now I know the answer. Bottled water from inside the airport from now on.

    Thank you so much for this information. I certainly didn’t know that the water, coffee, or tea onboard a plane could be anything but safe.

    I totally agree. Only drink from a sealed container !!

    What about ice? No cocktails or sodas?

    Which would also make me concerned about ice on board airlines.

    I would appreciate information on methodology included. Thanks.

    Perfect timing! I am about to take 2 transatlantic flights and 8 domestic flights during the next 3 weeks. You can be sure I will buy a bottled drink on the plane. One problem is that one cannot bring any liquid through customs and I used to bring my own from home. Thanks for the timely tip!!

    * Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^