By Ted Scouten

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – When you’re heading off on that dream vacation or routine business trip, likely the last thing you’re thinking about is the water quality onboard an aircraft.

Others, however, steer clear of it.

“I don’t drink the water on a plane at all,” said traveler Tonya Fowler. “I just chose not to. I try to avoid it as much as possible.”

A recent airline water quality study conducted by, along with Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, rated US airlines for how their onboard tap water measures up to Aircraft Drinking Water Rules, known as ADWR.

It looked at the number of violations and test results for coliform bacteria and E. coli. A rating of at least three out of five stars is considered relatively safe, clean drinking water.

Click Here to see the ADWR compliance reports.

Airline water quality (CBS4)

Spirt and Jetblue tied for last place with one star apiece followed by United, American, Delta, Southwest and Frontier airlines. At the top of the list, Hawaiian, Allegiant, and Alaska airlines, they all had three or more stars.

Nova Southeastern University biologist Dr. Robert Smith explained the concerns of finding coliform bacteria.

“They exist naturally in the environment, you can find them in soils, you can find them in water, but what they’re really worried about is that they’re often associated with poop from humans,” Smith explained. “So they’re concerned the water has been contaminated with human feces.”

That being said, he noted water quality onboard aircraft has been getting better over the years.

“For me, this is not a cause of massive concern,” Smith said. “I think since the federal regulations have been developed, the amount of these violations or amount of time coliform bacteria have been detected inside water sources has decreased substantially.”

Airlines are pushing back.

Read: Airline Responses To Study

Several noted the study includes all violations going back to 2012 and does not take into account improvement or that some of those violations may be paperwork or administrative issues.

Jetblue said, in part, “The study looks back to 2012, but over the past three years, JetBlue has worked to achieve water quality that has produced few violations under the latest EPA Aircraft Drinking Water Rule regulations.”

Southwest said, its “…2019 performance to date shows only one violation and less than one percent of our aircraft tested positive for total coliform.”

Delta noted it,“…has not had an E.coli positive aircraft water sample since 2015…”

“One of the major takeaways is that that it is getting better and that it’s happening less frequently and I think airlines still have a ways to go before it’s more or less perfect,” Smith said.

In the meantime, the study suggests passengers steer clear of the water. The study recommends passengers only drink bottled water on aircraft, avoid coffee or tea and don’t wash your hands in the bathroom, use sanitizer instead. Smith agrees you should drink only bottled water but feels the coffee and tea are okay to drink and recommends washing your hands and then using sanitizer if you’re concerned.

Ted Scouten