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Can Airline Coffee Make You Sick?

About 500,000 people are up in the air at any given time, and while some people may have a fear of flying, most people don’t think twice about drinking airline coffee. However, according to a 2019 Airline Water Study by DietDetective.com and Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, many airlines are using unhealthy water. Since that same water is used to brew in-flight coffee, you may want to think twice about having a cup of coffee on your next flight.

What’s in the water?

The Hunter College study indicated that airplane water tanks could contain bacteria like E. coli and coliform. By itself, coliform can’t make you sick, but it can indicate the presence of other harmful contaminants like viruses, protozoa, and multicellular parasites. Since airline coffee is made from these water sources, airline coffee could get you sick.

Long-haul flights usually have much poorer water quality than short-haul flights. This is likely the result of water tanks being filled from local municipal water sources that may not have healthy water. Unfortunately, the EPA doesn’t appear to be doing their part to ensure airlines are using healthy water on flights. For example, the EPA has rarely given fines to airlines who fail their water quality inspections, and airlines who fail their quarterly water sample tests have up to 24 hours to shut off their water use.

Do some airlines have better water quality than others?

Some airlines have better water than others. For instance, the Hunter College study rated the airline quality of 10 major airlines on a scale of 0.0-5.0 with 5.0 being the highest rating. Allegiant and Alaska airlines received the highest score at 3.3, and Hawaiian airlines came in second at 3.1. At the lower end of the scale was Delta at 1.6, American at 1.5, and United at 1.2. Jet Blue and Spirit earned the award for the lowest rating with a score of 1.0. These scores are low enough to be concerning, so if you’re on a flight, it’s best to stick with beverages that come in a sealed container.

What about the coffee pots?

Fortunately, you only need to be concerned with the quality of water when it comes to coffee. Most airlines regularly clean their coffee pots, so you shouldn’t be concerned about the cleanliness of the coffee pots they’re using to brew the coffee. However, there’s no way flight attendants can brew your coffee without using the airline’s water supply.

So how do I get in-flight coffee?

If you’re going on a short flight, you can pick up some coffee at an airport café before boarding. If this isn’t an option, or if you want fresh coffee throughout your flight, there are a few other things you can try. You can heat up your own water at an airport café and store it in a flask designed for keeping coffee hot. Then, when you’re on your flight you can use a compact Nanopresso or a Minipresso to create fresh espresso while up in the air. Costway offers another excellent portable espresso maker, and it can be used with hot or cold water. Best of all, these espresso makers don’t require a battery or electric power.

Poor airline water quality is concerning, so if you can, you should avoid drinking airline coffee. Thankfully, you can use portable coffee makers to enjoy fresh coffee on your flights. It might be a little extra work, but you’ll have the peace of mind that you’re drinking healthy water and probably have better-tasting coffee too.

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