Facts about airline water

Fact 1:

In the United States, drinking water safety on airlines is jointly
regulated by the EPA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA). EPA regulates the public water systems
that supply water to the airports and the drinking water once it is
onboard the aircraft. FDA has jurisdiction over culinary water (e.g.,
ice) and the points where aircraft obtain water (e.g., pipes or
tankers) at the airport. In addition, air carriers must have
FAA-accepted operation and maintenance programs for all aircraft, this
includes the potable water system. (EPA)

Fact 2:

…the news carried stories that the US EPA had determined that 15% of
water on a sample of 327 aircraft flunked the total coliform standards
and inspections showed that all aircraft were out of compliance with
the national drinking water standards.

Rest assured, the EPA has crafted new rules to address the problem.

Comments

I think the lesson here is to stick with coffee and alcohol. But only for safety and personal health, of course.

I think the lesson here is that when a third of your country get's hoodwinked into thinking the EPA = OMG COMMUNIST CHINA you wind up with toothless regulation and consumers are put at risk unnecessarily.

In my experience the drinking water on a plane comes from a plastic bottle, just like it does on land.

My wife was a flight attendant for 18 years with one of the majors--she won't touch most of the food served (pre-wrapped stuff is OK) and none of the drinks prepared on board. She's also a germaphobe, something she picked up from working in the gallies for those years. I've asked for details, and she gives me a "You're better off not knowing." look--and I've learned before she's not bluffing!

Wonderful!

Well if it doesn't kill you...

I think the lesson here is that when a third of your country get's hoodwinked into thinking the EPA = OMG ENVIRONMENT HEAVEN you wind up with false sense of security and consumers are put at risk unnecessarily.

Mike,

So, now air travel is a free market as well? I'm especially feeling the laissez-faire is in the air when the TSA gives me the body cavity search. And I'm reminded about the regulations on ticket prices that 99% of the time went to keeping ticket prices HIGHER.

And by the way the free market has solved the problem as indicated. You perhaps just don't like the solution: bottled water. It also fixed the problems with municipal drinking water that have been in the news lately, despite all the assurances that tap water is great.

So what's the real "lesson" here, MR?

It seems clear that absent regulatory pressures there would still be no incentive to keep airline water particularly clean. Indeed, I doubt that shame over the recent tests will prompt any positive remedial response. Their margins are such that they're charging us for bags now. Given that, clean drinking water seems way down the list of priorities.

And I agree with Andrew. The free market has solved this problem. The same way they solved it in Mexico. Avoid. The. Water.

While that might be fine for Mexico and for the Airlines, I'm not sure that's a market solution I'd like to export to our frequently successful municipal water systems (I know I drink tap water where I live and it's great, and it's a government program that runs it).

So is the lesson that three regulators are worse than one? Or than regulators are worse than none? What "free market" solutions would result in drinkable tap water? Examples?

It's an everybody-failure, holmeqm, assuming that the standards are appropriate. It isn't a win for the airlines or their varied regulators.

I love how the "free market" has "solved" this problem. Everybody knows that the first thing you're thinking of when you buy a ticket is how good the water is. All the online ticket sellers provide charts and graphs of the relative water quality in the different airlines so that consumers can make informed decisions. Not.

The water quality is one of the last things I consider when purchasing a ticket. This is mainly because waterborne outbreaks of disease on aircraft don't seem to be a widespread problem. If an airline had a reputation for outbreaks of sickness I would avoid it.

Of course the whole water quality issue would be far less of an issue if we could bring our own water on board, as used to be the case.

Whether or not one considers something regulated by three different agencies a "free market", the airlines are apparently providing water that is clean enough that there's no evidence people are getting sick from it. 85% of the planes in the sample passed the total coliform standard and we really have no basis on which to think even the 15% that failed was actually unsafe.

To quote the EPA's site, a positive result on total coliform is "Not a health threat in itself; it is used to indicate whether other potentially harmful bacteria may be present"

http://www.epa.gov/safewater/contaminants/index.html

We should not forget the first question: how did the info get out? From the EPA or from investigative journalists?

Second question: can they actually do any better than just reporting the information?

Also, you non-believers out there need to understand that us market fundamentalists are not shocked or moved greatly by this kind of stuff, so you don't need to overreact.

For them the unregulated water system in Somalia is a shining light that we in the Obama gulags can only aspire to.

Somalia has a very strong government institutions and very strict government regulation. Somalia's problems aren't a lack of regulation - disobey the local strongman and you will be punished in ways that your local bureaucrat in the U.S. could only dream of, it is hard to imagine any level of government regulation in the United States as all encompassing or with the unchecked power that the government in Somalia has.

"Can you give us five examples of sensible, moderate regulation?"

I think it says more about this discussion that you apparently can't.
http://www.newshounds.us/2004/08/31/a_day_in_the_life_of_joe_middleclass_republican.php

Yes if pressed I can probably make a list of hundreds of sensible, moderate regulation that would in aggregate still falls an order of magnitude short of making this country Stalin's Russia. Sadly, when presented with an opportunity to reject the hyperbolic claims of teabaggers you instead decided to pivot and carry their water.

The anti-flying messages of the green lobby have grown more vicious and loud lately. I agree with other posters that the green lobby whilst initially having widespread public sympathy for their cause have over played their hand with this one. People don't mind recycling more or making other small contributions. But ordering them to put on sack cloth and ashes is a step too far.

The green lobby don't understand that flying is not just people flying for the hell of it: it is people going to see relatives in other countries they maybe only see once a year. It is people travelling to see the sights of the world before they die. It is young people learning about other cultures.

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