The Nasty Reason Why You May Want To Stop Ordering These 3 Popular Beverages While Flying

<span class="copyright">Anchiy via Getty Images</span>
Anchiy via Getty Images

The best part of flying has to be the snacks, right?

No matter how long we’re stuck on the runway, or how annoying the person sitting next to us is, or how gross the bathroom will almost certainly be, at least we can look forward to some cookies or chips (or, if we’re lucky enough to have an especially generous flight attendant, both) and a drink.

While most people have their go-to selections, it turns out there are a few popular items we might not want to order... and for a really gross reason.

That’s what we — Raj Punjabi and Noah Michelson, hosts of HuffPost’s “Am I Doing It Wrong?” podcast — recently learned when we chatted with HuffPost senior reporter and travel expert Caroline Bologna about how to make air travel less miserable.

“I heard you shouldn’t drink water on planes because it can be from tanks that they never clean — is this true?” Michelson asked.

“You should not drink water that you didn’t see come out of a bottle,” Bologna warned.

That’s because even though the water on planes is required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be potable, the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule passed in 2011 orders that airplane water tanks be flushed and disinfected just four times a year — or just once a year, if the tanks are tested monthly for substances like coliform bacteria and E. coli.

A 2019 Hunter College study found that despite this federally mandated cleaning and testing schedule, many airlines “have possibly provided passengers with unhealthy water.” The study also discovered that the EPA “rarely levies civil penalties to airlines in violation” of drinking water safety rules.

However, Bologna noted that if flight crews serve water from bottles, you can — and should — drink as much as you like.

″[Planes] are very dehydrating — it’s a very dry environment,” she noted. “That’s why when you sit in those premium cabins, they give you nice lotions. ... Even before you fly, try to really hydrate or have electrolytes.”

If you see flight attendants pouring water from anything other than a bottle or can, you should probably say no thanks.

“Sometimes, on flights, we would run out of bottled water,” former flight attendant Sue Fogwell told Travel & Leisure. “If you see a pitcher of water on the beverage cart in economy class, skip it — it’s from the water tank. Ask for a can of seltzer water.”

You also might want to avoid two other beloved beverages while flying.

“Everyone who’s worked on planes that I know says don’t have the coffee or the tea because it is [made with] the water from the tank,” Bologna said.

A video that echoes that sentiment went viral on TikTok last year.

In the clip, a response to a Reddit thread about flight attendants’ “dirty little secrets,” a flight attendant named Kevin called airline coffee “disgusting” and recommended passengers “get to the airport 10 minutes earlier and buy a coffee in the terminal” instead of ordering it at 35,000 feet.

Other airline crew members have told travel sites they happily chug drinks made with water from the plane’s tank.

Kelly Kincaid, who has been working as a flight attendant for over a decade, told The Points Guy in 2019 that she “drinks the coffee and tea all day long.” Her husband, who is also a flight attendant, “drinks about a pot of coffee a day from the plane” and hasn’t had any issues.

Julie Kelley, a flight attendant who has been flying for over 40 years, told Fodors that she “consumes at least two hot beverages on every flight she works [a]nd she has never once felt sick after drinking anything made with hot water in-flight.”

However, Charles Platkin, executive director at the Center for Food as Medicine and the researcher who oversaw the Hunter College study, isn’t convinced. He told Well+Good that he will not drink coffee while flying because of the chance of “trace elements — or sometimes significantly more — of bacteria, feces, and so forth” in airline water.

“I won’t even touch the [lavatory] water to wash my hands,” he said, adding that he opts for hand sanitizer instead.

Ultimately, like so many things in life, the choice is up to you. Still, Bologna suggests, “just have a nice coffee from the airport Starbucks [before you board].”

Listen to the full episode featuring lots more flying tips by pressing play on the player above or wherever you get your podcasts.

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