A recent study by DietDetective.com and the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center got our attention and reminded us to think about water safety on all airlines. Today we’re focusing specifically on those flying to Hawaii. U.S. airlines’ water quality and standards violations vary widely. Read on for all the details as relates to Hawaii, then get ready to consider bringing your own water. It may come as no surprise that the safest airline water (of those flying to Hawaii) is found on Alaska Airlines followed by Hawaiian Airlines.
First, know that federal standards exist for airline drinking water, it is called Aircraft Drinking Water Rule or ADWR. That was begun nearly a decade ago to assure passengers and crew of safe drinking water aloft. We weren’t actually aware of these regulations ourselves. As a side note, the EPA has not sought violation penalties in most cases.
The most recent study ranked 23 airlines with regards to water quality on their flights. Scores ranged from zero for the lowest quality to five for the highest quality. Scoring was based on ten things, including prior violations, positive tests for E. coli and coliform bacteria, fleet size, and airline cooperation on these issues. Generally, the study says that a score of 3 or greater is a good thing, although we didn’t feel completely comfortable, even then. You’ll see why.
Airlines are required to sample, flush and disinfect their water tanks to prevent bacterial contamination. There are two options, with it done either quarterly, or annually, but with monthly testing.
The study gives their “shame on you” award to the EPA for their handling of these matters, and for “nearly all major airlines” in regards to poor response and lack of cooperation in addressing these issues. American and United were called out for not addressing questions related to the large number of violations in the last 7 years.
1. Never drink water on-board that isn’t in a sealed bottle. Both Alaska and Hawaiian serve water during beverage service directly from sealed containers. Coffee or tea should not be consumed.
2. Do not drink coffee or tea on-board.
3. Do not wash hands in the airplane lavatory. The study suggests using hand sanitizer instead.
What about ice?
Ice was not addressed in this study. It would seem to be another important potential source of bacterial contamination in beverages that should be investigated.
This isn’t about bottled water.
Keep in mind that this study isn’t about the airline opening a bottle of water and serving it to you directly from the bottle. This is about anything that uses the on-board drinking water system.
Airline rankings and past 7 years of violations.
Alaska Airlines: 3.3. Total violations between 2012 and 2019: 2
Hawaiian Airlines: 3.1. Total violations between 2012 and 2019: 25
Southwest Airlines: 2.4. Total violations between 2012 and 2019: 33
Delta Air Lines: 1.6. Total violations between 2012 and 2019: 213
American Airlines: 1.5. Total violations between 2012 and 2019: 108
United Airlines: 1.2. Total violations between 2012 and 2019: 79
Note: you cannot compare the number of violations between airlines, inasmuch as they have vastly different fleet sizes.
Beat of Hawaii photo at Brennecke Beach Kauai.