If you’re planning on flying home to visit with your family and friends this holiday season, don’t forget to bring a reusable water bottle along for the journey. Once you get on that airplane, there’s a chance that the drinking water on board (the non-bottled H2O used to brew hot tea and coffee) isn’t as clean as you’d like it to be.
According to a new report compiled by Hunter College’s NYC Food Policy Center, the water tanks in airplanes are often poorly maintained, allowing for harmful bacteria to make its way into the drinking water supply that flight attendants used for hot tea and coffee orders. The researchers polled 11 airlines on their water tank procedures, and it turns out that the Environmental Protection Agency, which maintains an aircraft drinking water rule to which all companies must comply, only requires the water tanks to be cleaned four times per year and the confirmation of these cleanings is an honor code-style self-reporting done by the airlines themselves.
“Planes come in, [and the tanks are] not being emptied and cleaned because there is no time for that,” Charles Platkin, a professor of nutrition and the executive director of the Food Policy Center, told The New York Post. “The water tank is being filled on top [after] each usage. Whatever would be on the bottom stays there and sits there.”
Airlines like Delta and United use ozone disinfection technology at least quarterly to clean those water tanks. But if that schedule isn’t frequent enough to make you comfortable with drinking the water (and we don’t blame you — there are enough health risks involved with commuting on a germy airplane in the first place), it’s time to BYOB: bring your own bottle.
You can bring an empty reusable water bottle through any TSA security checkpoint and then fill it at a filtered water fountain within the terminal. That way, you can stay hydrated and healthy on your flight, which is especially helpful when you’re already breathing recycled air and touching seats and trays covered in bacteria.
To go the extra mile in avoiding airplane-borne illnesses this holiday season, keep some hand sanitizer on hand as well. There are plenty of travel-sized bottles available in supermarkets and grocery stores nationwide, and it can dramatically reduce your risk of falling prey to things like E. coli and other potent pathogens.
Happy hydrating, happy travels and happy holidays, friends!