Looks like it’s not just the ice cubes you should avoid on flights. You may also want to steer clear of any beverage that uses the plane’s potable water, like coffee or tea. The New York Post states that according to a new report from Hunter College’s NYC Food Policy Center, “the water tanks on planes may be subject to shoddy maintenance, which could lead to potentially harmful bacteria in the coffee and tea that flight attendants whip up during in-flight beverage service.” The survey made this conclusion after polling 11 airlines like JetBlue and Delta about their water-tank procedures.
While the straight water you drink on flights is likely poured from a bottle, flight attendants use the potable water to brew coffee and tea. Charles Platkin, a professor of nutrition and the executive director of the NYC Food Policy Center, tells the Post, “Planes come in, [and the tanks are] not being emptied and cleaned, because there is no time for that. The water tank is being filled on top [after] each usage. Whatever would be on the bottom stays there and sits there.” EPA standards only require those tanks to be cleaned out four times a year. While coffee and tea are heated, obviously, it’s not certain that the water gets hot enough to kill any possible bacteria. Nevertheless, in response to the study, “a spokesman for an airline trade group told The L.A. Times that ‘rigorous sampling and management requirements’ are routinely met.”
To be on the safe side, though, it looks like the hermetically sealed soda in a can is likely your best bet for an in-air beverage. Without ice. Luckily, those tiny little liquor bottles are sealed tightly as well.