A 2019 Airline Water Study released by DietDetective.com and the Hunter College New York City Policy Center at the City University of New York reveals airplane water quality on 11 major and 12 regional airlines.

The study summarizes that many airlines have been providing passengers with unhealthy drinking water.

It took more than seven months to conduct.

Current & Previous Laws Regulating Water

The government previously passed the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule (ADWR) “to ensure that safe and reliable drinking water is provided to aircraft passengers and crew (U.S. EPA)” but it was clearly being violated.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are all in charge of regulating the rule.

The EPA is in charge of regulating the water supply to airports and aircraft. The FDA regulates airplane water used in food and drinks on board. And the FAA supervises a plane’s operations and maintenance along with ensuring a safe water system.

The study also states the EPA rarely enforces punishments to airlines who violate the ADWR.

Airlines have seen an exponential decrease in violations from 2012 to 2018 since implementing the rules in 2011. Major airlines have decreased by 69% from 262 violations to 81 and regional airlines have decreased 71% from 351 to 103.

Airplane water has been an ongoing issue for almost two decades. In 2004, the EPA filed a report stating all aircraft public water systems did not meet the regulations set within the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.

An EPA spokesperson told reporters the previous regulations were for “traditional, stationary public water systems, not mobile aircrafts” and that the creation of the ADWR in 2009 was to ensure safe drinking water for airlines.

The federal government stated the water must be reliable and acceptable for drinking, bathing, brushing, and for washing hands.

Vital Takeaways From the Report

The Washington Post listed some of the major takeaways from the study: to avoid drinking coffee or tea on board, only drink bottled/sealed water, and to use the provided hand sanitizer in the bathrooms instead of washing your hands under the faucet.

Charles Platkin, the editor for DietDetective.com and Executive Director at Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, said, “It was such a difficult task of trying to peel the onion for enough information on what’s available, what’s recorded.”

Majority of airlines in the study tested positive for water containing E. coli. It is a bacterium usually found in the intestines of humans and is an indicator “of fecal pollution” in water systems.

Each of the airlines’ rankings on the “Water Health Score” is based out of 5 with 5 being the highest rating given and 0 being the lowest. A score of 3 or above indicates the water is relatively safe and clean.

The major airline with the best airplane water quality rating was Alaska Airlines with a score of 3.3 and Piedmont Airlines, a regional airline based in Maryland, scored an exceptional 4.33.

Besides Piedmont, all other regional airlines have an average score of 1.33 with Republic Airways rated at only 0.44.

Airline Water Health Scores
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, JetBlue 1, Spirit Airlines 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

For the study’s findings and full report click here.