Don’t Drink the Water
I sit in near darkness while the Airbus A380 maintains a dull roar around me.
I’m stressed and I’m sick of trying to maintain my on-again, off-again nap. I pull myself up into a seated position and fumble with the mostly unresponsive touch screen.
The flight attendant rumbles down the walkway with her cart of beverages. I think to myself that a cardboard cup of tea is exactly the cure I need for my stress.
What I don’t realise is that I’m swapping stress — with E. Coli.
Not too long ago, I wrote a story for ‘The Mile High Club’ addressing the quality of food served aboard airplanes.
In this story, I talked briefly about the poor quality of water kept onboard.
I mentioned the lack of cleanliness in the tanks, and how no one seems to mind what’s going on.
The thought has stuck with me ever since I wrote that piece. I couldn’t believe that the quality of the water we drink onboard isn’t a bigger deal to people.
I decided that it needed to be talked about further, and in more detail.
We Need Our Beverages
At only 20% humidity, the dryness inside an aircraft cabin is equivalent to the Sahara Desert.
According to health professionals, we can lose up to 4% of our body water on a flight.
This means that on a 10 hour flight, we can lose 2 litres of water into the air.
We need water, and as a paying customer, I want the water I’m being given to be clean.
The Secret is Out
It’s absolutely no secret that the tanks holding drinking water aboard planes are filthy.
Time Magazine talked with a flight attendant who asked not to be named, but had worked aboard an aircraft for 20 years. She said to Time,
“I won’t drink the tap water — I just don’t trust the cleanliness of the aircraft and the testing of it.”
Why doesn’t she trust the water?
Regulations governing the cleanliness of water aboard are severely lax.
The EPA, FDA and FAA require that planes clean their tanks at least once a year, up to four times a year.
The tanks are too difficult to reach inside and be properly scrubbed, so they’re treated with ozone instead.
A 2014 study conducted by the EPA found that up to 15% of aircrafts are harbouring dangerous pathogens in the water. These water-borne illnesses are thriving in dark, dank and unclean conditions.
**Remember that in a scientific study, there are many reasons why samples may be considered inadmissible. So the statistic may actually be higher.**
Industry representatives say that water can be transported and fed into the tanks via questionable containers and hoses.
This means that water may be arriving to the airplane already dirty.
Water can also be left in the airplane tank for lengthy periods of time, because tanks are not emptied after every flight.
I’m confident that if there was a way for us to open up and look inside one of these tanks, we’d be mortified.
The Wall Street Journal undertook their own study in 2002. They found salmonella, staphylococcus, and insect eggs in samples taken from airplane tanks.
Another anonymous flight attendant told TIME magazine that,
“We only truly clean once a year. I’ve been on planes that are constantly running. It’s almost like a subway in New York. We know things are dirty in the system and it takes a little while to clean it out.”
Tea and Coffee
A lot of people are quick to defend drinking tea and coffee onboard. They say that water needs to be boiled to prepare these beverages, and that boiling water sterilises it.
People are quick to forget that water needs to boil for a certain amount of time to kill the bacteria living inside. It’s also not effective against 100% of all harmful bacteria.
Not only that, but flight attendants often don’t have time to boil the water at all. It’s often heated to a “good enough” temperature. This may in fact be helping the bacteria, not stopping it.
If there’s one reliable rule of thumb to surviving a flight, it would be to do what the flight attendants do.
If they won’t do something, there’s probably a really good reason. If they won’t drink the water, neither will I.
What can we do?
Scientists involved in the studies have told us to stick to bottled water and beverages onboard flights.
They know that for some of us, missing out on a coffee is not a good feeling. But they’re hoping that we’d rather deal with a caffeine headache than a staph infection.
This is a good day for Coke, if you really think about it.
Need some caffeine but don’t want to come down with a viral plague?
Choose Coke! The beverage that is — and this is really one of the only times you can say this — The Healthy Alternative to Water!