Just how safe is airlines water for consumption? According to an NBC News investigation, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued almost 1,500 food safety citations to three major airline caterers and 16 airlines since October 2008. Though none of the cases were severe enough for the FDA to shut down any facilities down, about a third of them were related to contamination or sanitation violations.
As a result, the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule (ADWR) was implemented by the federal government in 2011 to ensure airlines provide passengers and flight crew with safe drinking water.
A 2019 Airline Water study by DietDetective.com and the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center ranked 11 major and 12 regional airlines based on its “Water Health Score” from 0 to 5, with 3.0 or higher as relatively safe and clean.
Ten different criteria were used to determine the health score, including ADWR violations and positive E. coli, bacteria that potentially cause illness.
Unfortunately, only three out of 11 airlines scored above 3, with Alaska Airlines taking the top spot for the safest water for consumption. Southwest Airlines was scored at 2.4, followed by United Airlines at 1.2, and JetBlue with the worst health score at 1.
There are several reasons why maintaining the safety of airline water could be difficult. For example, flying to multiple destinations results in pumping water from various domestic and international sources into airline tanks. The cleanliness of the equipment used to transfer the water such as water cabinets, trucks, carts, and hoses also plays a significant role in airline water safety.
The study warns against drinking airline water, including coffee or tea, that is not from a sealed bottle, and to use hand sanitizer to clean your hands instead of washing them in the bathroom.