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A New Study on Water Quality in Airplanes Is... Really Bad

Just recently, a pilot flying a commercial plane spilled hot coffee, melted a button on the air traffic controls, and was forced to divert a 326-passenger flight. The airline addressed the issue by saying they would "provide tops for the coffee," and educate adult staff members on how to sip hot beverages without messing up everybody's lives. And so a plane coffee problem was momentarily resolved.

But now there's another airplane coffee problem. We've warned you before about the hazards of drinking airplane coffee, and now a new study is pointing fingers at some seriously unhealthy aircraft H20 on major airline flights.

The 2019 study was released by and the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center at City University of NY, in tandem with DietDetective.com.

The study examines water quality on airlines ranks 23 air carriers in total. All 23 airlines (11 major carriers and 12 regional lines) by using a Water Health Score between zero and five. Zero being the lowest score, and five being pure water that is fully self actualized. 

The results were based on 10 criteria, including federal Aircraft Drinking Water Rule (ADWR) violations, positive E. coli water sample reports and, interestingly, company cooperation with answering questions about water quality. 

Before we give you the ranking, keep in mind that a score of 3.0 is actually pretty good. Science is just a nitpicky professor. At the end of the day, the study recommends that you just avoid drinking the water on airplanes (and therefore coffee and tea onboard as well).

Anyways, here they are the results: 

Major Airlines
Alaska Airlines: 3.3
Allegiant Air: 3.3
Hawaiian Airlines: 3.1
Frontier Airlines: 2.6
Southwest Airlines: 2.4
Delta Air Lines: 1.6
American Airlines: 1.5
United Airlines: 1.2
Spirit Airlines: 1
JetBlue: 1


Regional Airlines
Piedmont Airlines: 4.33
Sun Country Airlines: 2.78
Envoy Air: 2.11
GoJet Airlines: 2
Trans States Airlines: 1.78
Compass Airlines 1.22
PSA Airlines: 1.22
SkyWest Airlines 1.11
Endeavor Air: 0.78
Air Wisconsin Airlines: 0.68
ExpressJet Airlines: 0.56
Republic Airways: 0.44

As you can see, JetBlue is on the wrong end of the findings. They had the highest number of total ADWR violations, a large number of violations per aircraft as well as positive E. coli samples. The study also notes that representatives from the company were not very responsive. 

Spirit Airlines also scored badly, with the highest number of average of violations per aircraft among the major airlines, and noted failures to conduct routine quality monitoring. 

You can find the rest of the results and reasonings here. For now, we'll give you some survival tips. In order to stay healthy, both Diet Detective and the Hunter College Food Center recommend the following: 

  • NEVER drink any water onboard that isn't in a sealed bottle,
  • Do not drink coffee or tea onboard,
  • Do not wash your hands in the bathroom; bring hand-sanitizer with you instead.

The radical nature of these requests is definitely concerning, and we should definitely be upset. But rest assured knowing that the Hunter College Food Center has already given out "Shame on You" awards to the EPA and most major airlines. Fight injustice with pettiness, y'all. 

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Ruby Anderson avoids E. coli by only drinking alcohol on planes.