It’s 6 a.m, and you’ve already been up and about for two hours, heading to the airport. You didn’t have time to grab a coffee or sandwich at the gate, so you decide to order coffee and a delicious in-flight breakfast instead. Sound familiar?
Free coffee on an early flight is very convenient, but according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it’s not entirely the healthiest solution. Why? Because in-flight coffee and tea are made with airplane tap water.
The tap water is no good.
Back in 2004, the EPA released a study saying that after testing the drinking water aboard 158 passenger airplanes, 13 percent of them did not meet EPA standards. In other words, some of them had contaminated water. These flights tested positive for coliform bacteria, and some even had E. coli. (Here are more ways to steer clear of E. coli.)
Although airplanes are provided with water for the flight, that water isn’t always the cleanest. According to a 2015 study done by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the organisms are likely transferred from contaminated tanker trucks which deliver water to the planes.
So is the water tested now? Short answer: Maybe.
Although improvements have been made since the original EPA study, airline workers aren’t confident that the water is still entirely safe to drink. Fifteen years ago, the EPA pushed for a regulation that would demand the frequency of testing the airline’s water. This would seem like the proper solution to the problem, but some say that it doesn’t happen as often as we hope.
In an interview with Business Insider, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA did state that they do not “believe this regulation goes far enough or is sufficiently enforced.”
So next time you’re on a flight, you may want to reconsider your free drink option. Or better yet, prep this iced coffee recipe the night before for an easy grab-and-go!