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Don’t Drink the Delta Coffee? (But Can You Eat Their Ice?!)

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


A new study rates airlines by the cleanliness of their consumable water onboard. Delta doesn’t exactly finish first.

We’re talking water for making tea and coffee (and maybe ice!), and also for hand washing in the lavatory.

Alaska and Allegiant Airlines topped the list for cleanest water. (How about that? Allegiant ranking first in something safety-related? Though Gary at View from the Wing noted Piedmont finished with the best overall score across regional and major carriers.)

Spirit and JetBlue finished last.

According to Simple Flying, “The study ranks 11 major airlines and 12 regional carriers by a ‘Water Health Score,’ which is based on 10 criteria including fleet size, the airline’s number of ADWR violations, positive E. coli and coliform water sample reports, and the airline’s willingness to answer to water-quality questions.”

A “5” is the highest score an airline can receive in this study, with “0” being the lowest. A “3” rating  “indicates that the airline has relatively safe, clean water.”

So did Delta “Strive for Five“?

Not really, it seems. The mothership scored a 1.6.

Lavatory sink on a 767-300
“No water.” Is that a bad thing, though?

“The ‘Shame on You’ Award goes to the EPA and nearly all major airlines (regional airlines weren’t contacted) for their very poor response time and lack of cooperation answering detailed questions,” admonishes City University of New York. “The EPA didn’t answer most penalty-related questions, and Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier did not respond to any questions. Very weak responses – and responses that didn’t address questions – were provided by American, United, and JetBlue, which had a large number of violations during the past seven years.”

The study provided travelers with three recommendations when it comes to water usage and consumption on aircraft:

  1. Drink water poured only from sealed bottles
  2. Don’t drink coffee or tea made onboard
  3. Don’t wash your hands in the lavatory — use hand sanitizer instead.

Suggestions #1 and #2 are pretty easy to follow.

But #3? (Perhaps the lavatory recommendation should have been labeled #1 or #2, right? 😉 )

I travel with a small child who needs diaper changes. There are times we must wash our hands. However, we’re quick to use hand sanitizer before we’re even back at our seats.

You can tell me not to drink the water or coffee — but, sorry, I’m washing my hands.

So What Does This Mean?!

I usually see flight attendants pouring water from large bottles. (Here’s hoping they were sealed before opening — and not refilled from onboard taps!) And if you’re lucky enough to ride upfront, you usually received the bottled stuff.

Two small bottles of Dasani Water are seen in the first class cabin of a Delta Air Lines Boeing 737 jet in Seattle, Washington.

I’ve also seen bagged ice dumped into the cart tubs — but apparently some of the tanked water is sometimes used to make ice? This totally puts the “ew!” in “ice chewing.”

(Perhaps some of our readers who are pilots or flight attendants can provide some insight into all this.)

Now call me crazy, but I’m not going to stop having coffee on flights. (Reader Lance Jost tweeted his dissent. 😉

In fact, the best cup of coffee I ever enjoyed was a pre-departure cuppa joe aboard a Delta 757 in Fargo. I kid you not: this was better than any other coffee I enjoyed in other parts of the world. Now I wonder just what the heck in that coffee made it taste so good! (Or maybe I’d rather not find out.)

Frankly, there are times I think Delta flight attendants make better Starbucks coffee than many baristas. (Although if there are “interesting ingredients” from the plane’s water tanks, that might explain something.)

Because coffee (and tea) are produced in boiling or very hot water, I’m not too worried. Plus, some Baileys Irish Cream or Kahlua added to your coffee will probably help kill any lingering germs or bacteria!

Free drinks and snacks in Delta Comfort Plus

Water You Going to Do Now?

Did this study confirm your worst fears? If you’ve been drinking onboard water and coffee, will you give it up? Tell us your thoughts in the Comments section below!

—Chris

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


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8 Comments

  1. Don in ATL

    Remember, the flight attendants wash their hands in this lavatory water, and then handle your food. Also, as for the coffee, I was told by one FA that she uses two bags of coffee (instead of one) to make make a pot of coffee because people’s taste buds are “off” up in the air.

  2. It simply kills me to see an FA take a bag of ice and bang it on the floor before use. Those bags are not thick.

    Beyond that this report is really disturbing.

  3. I don’t drink the coffee simply because it tastes like plastic due to being served out of the plastic containers. I have enough micro plastic floating around in my system. I don’t need any more.

  4. yltravel

    Stopped drinking the onboard coffee years ago as it just tastes bad. I’ve gotten into the habit of filling a small thermos at the skyclub and bringing that onboard.

  5. Ah Chris, your report does it for me. I usually bring my own water or drinks on board. But in case I don’t, and on an international trip, I’ll never have ice again.

  6. Don in ATL

    From a friend who has been a flight attendant for 25 years: “That’s why I don’t eat or drink airplane
    I always eat before or bring my own food my own water and only can drinks….”

  7. @Rene I agree I have seen the ice bags thrown down on the lovely plane floor! I try to bring a cup of ice from the SC ! And I have never asked for coffee or tea on board .

  8. Well I think Delta and the FDA should be ashamed, but I will bet you there will be no response. No corporation with salt will do anything unless large fines and publicity are involved. I am glad the airlines are profitable after decades of huge losses but now they seem to be too motivated by $$ and not doing the right thing!? Can you imagine the outrage if this report was about McDonalds? Where is the outrage Delta, I would be humiliated to be CEO and have this rating!!

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