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Rethink before ordering coffee or tea on a plane

>> Mar 26, 2018

It can be hard to cope with odd hour flights. However, a cup of coffee or tea could be a saving grace. It not only helps you stay awake during the long monotonous flights, but can also be very refreshing when you finally get off the plane. But have you ever considered how hygienic a cup of tea or coffee really is on the plane? This article might help shed some light on the subject.

Well, the brutal truth is that these beverages ordered on board may not be really hygienic. In fact, the real situation is even worse. Many crew members have been admitted that they hardly take anything, including water, tea or coffee from the plane. Of course, this is a self-imposed ban that has absolutely nothing to do with the taste. So there is definitely something you ought to know before you order for a cup of refreshing tea or coffee on your next flight.

These beverages served on flights may not be the best tasting. Nonetheless, they are very comforting. So how bad can it really get? Is it really necessary to avoid it? The real problem here is the water. They do not use bottled water for preparing these beverages. Rather, it comes straight off the tap. The tanks that are used for storing water in planes hardly get cleaned. This can make the situation even worse. 

To investigate the safety of water served on board, a study was conducted by the EPA back in 2004 in which they took samples from 158 planes. It was found that 13% of the total samples had coliform present in them. Two samples, even had the much dreaded E. coli, which is associated with a number of health issues. At the conclusion, everyone out of eight planes failed to pass the standard safety test for their water.

EPA Data

The Environmental Protection Agency has also done a number of additional studies after the initial one conducted in 2004. The most recent studies have revealed that almost 87.4% of the total aircraft managed to pass the quality standard test as laid down by the EPA. However, the remaining 12.6 percent, which comprised of both the domestic as well as the international aircrafts failed to meet the standards.

The planes that failed to pass the EPA test received the red flag, mainly owing to the strain of bacteria known as the Coliform. Coliform is most commonly found in animal and human feces. So it is not very difficult to guess the hygiene that is maintained over these planes. E.coli also belongs to the category of coliform bacteria and is often the root cause of various illnesses such as gastric distress, severe fever, and other significant medical disorders. The worst part, however, is that in some cases, it is not even possible to trace back the cause to E. Coli.

Planes rarely clean their water tanks

In between the landings and the takeoffs, there is hardly enough time for the planes to go through a thorough clean up. As a result, it is very easy for the water tanks to get neglected. When tanks are not cleaned for a very long period of time, the bacteria that is already present in the water gets plenty of time to reproduce and form colonies. Some of these are even transferred directly from the delivery trucks that have no better conditions. It was found out that a majority of the plane failed the safety test mainly owing to the unhygienic conditions in the storage tanks.

Passengers suffering from lower immunity tend to be easier victims of this neglect. Even if you have enjoyed a perfectly good health, it is always more advisable to go in for bottled water or canned beverages if you ever feel the need. The EPA even has a separate body with officials working closely with the ATA or the Air Transport. The main objective here is to improve the quality of the water available on board. The body has been functional since 2002 and has even considered taking legal action if the planes failed to meet the safety standards or resisted on improving the conditions. However, little change has been seen over the years. So it is always better to be safe than sorry.

The most recent studies

A test was again conducted by the EPA in 2012 in which they took samples off the planes that were randomly selected. It was found that 12 percent of the total number of samples still had coliform and some even gave positive results for the E.coli. The results were similar even in the 2008 study. Although the number of E.Coli found was much less, it is still evident that these planes did not do much to improve the conditions. Along with the EPA, flight attendant organizations too have been working towards an upliftment of the standards. However, it might take some time before these efforts finally yield results.

For more than 15 years, the Association of Flight Attendants – CWA has been pushing for regulations to improve the quality of drinking water on board. The regulation provides a guideline to the airlines on how frequently they should flush and clean the storage tanks. However, this regulation has not gone very far and is definitely not enforced with the required seriousness.

A majority of the airlines denied the neglect and made no direct comments. However, the Airlines for America, the groups that span a large number of airlines came forward with a statement saying that the safety of the crew and passengers, along with the distribution of safe drinking water remains a major priority for the airlines.

In order to cope with the issue, airlines provide the passengers and crew with bottled water while also working towards improving the quality of water available on board. The EPA and the airlines work closely towards improving the safety standards. The water used for on-board systems indirectly taken from the municipality. In order to maintain the safety, the samples are also rigorously tested and put through the required management processes. Despite all these efforts, there still seems to be a flaw when it comes to the study data. The only possible explanation is that the regulations are not being followed effectively enough.

Important things you should note

 The water available on board may not have any serious impacts on the health, especially if you are in a perfectly good health. However, if you are a frequent flyer, you have reason to take the necessary precautions. Also, the samples that failed the standard safety test had coliform in them. Now all the bacteria classified as coliform do not necessarily pose a threat to the health. So you do not really have to panic. The only dangerous strain that is E.Coli, was found only in a very small fraction of the samples.


As long as you are not drinking cold water straight off the tap, you are completely safe. Also, the process of boiling and brewing does not eliminate the bacteria. So it is better to avoid tea or coffee on board. You can grab a cup whenever the flight hits the ground. If you have a comprised immunity or have small children accompanying you, it is best to carry your own bottle of drinking water.

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Welcome to my blog. I'm a home maker, a stay at home wife. I'm just an ordinary woman who has interest in reading, working at home and learning to write. We live in Bogor, Indonesia.
This blog contains articles in family topic.
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