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The One Drink You Should Never Order on a Plane

By Bennett Kleinman
Read time: 4 minutes

Everyone has a favorite beverage when flying on an airplane. Some people prefer a libation, while others would rather sip a warm cup of tea or a fizzy soda. But it may surprise you to learn there’s one beverage that experts recommend against ordering on an aircraft. Read on to find out more about the one drink you should avoid ordering on an airplane — and what to drink instead.

Should You Drink Airplane Coffee?

Zoomed-in image of flight attendant pouring coffee on airplane
Credit: YakobchukOlena/ iStock via Getty Images 

This caffeinated morning favorite is arguably the riskiest beverage to consume aboard an aircraft, specifically if it’s brewed aboard the plane. This has little to do with the coffee beans themselves, but rather the tap water used during the brewing process. 

According to a 2019 study, many major airlines failed to meet proper cleanliness standards with regards to their onboard water tanks. Airlines are required to regularly test and disinfect these tanks to remove potentially harmful bacteria like E. coli. While airlines like Alaska and Allegiant were deemed to have relatively safe drinking water, others like JetBlue and Spirit were found to have poor cleanliness standards and could be serving up tap water that was potentially harmful to consume. This meant that any drink brewed aboard the aircraft — coffee, tea, or otherwise — was at risk of being contaminated with bacteria.

Notably, other experts have pushed back on this theory about airplane coffee being unsafe, claiming that the bacteria would be killed at the high temperatures used to brew each pot. Most bacteria die at around 175 degrees Fahrenheit, and water boils at 195 degrees when at a cruising altitude of 7,000 feet, which would be more than enough to kill the bacteria. That said, if you’re flying out of a country with unsafe drinking water or a warmer climate that could encourage bacteria growth, it’s probably worth taking extra caution to steer clear of any warm, brewed beverages.

Coffee (and Other Beverages) May Dehydrate You

Flight attendant rolling beverage cart down aisle of airplane
Credit: Anchiy/ E+ via Getty Images 

Sanitary reasons aside, coffee is arguably a poor drink choice aboard airplanes because it can easily dehydrate you. It’s important to stay hydrated while flying, as the average humidity sits at around 20%, which makes your skin and eyes more likely to dry out than most normal atmospheric conditions. This low humidity makes diuretic beverages like coffee riskier to drink. 

Sugary drinks like soda will also dehydrate you, as well as red wine, which contains byproducts that contribute to rapid dehydration. To stay hydrated, the Aerospace Medical Association recommends drinking eight ounces of water for every hour you are in the air, and preferably bottled water to avoid any potential contamination from the tanks.

What to Order Instead

Passenger drinking bottled water on airplane
Credit: Jun/ iStock via Getty Images 

There’s no better drink in the sky than bottled water. It keeps you properly hydrated, and the packaging protects against any potential contaminants. But if you’re looking for a pop of added flavor, then there are several other beverages worth considering during your next plane journey.

When flying, our taste buds are affected by the high altitude and increased cabin pressure. This makes certain drinks taste different — some arguably better. One of the most popular beverages with a different flavor profile in the sky is ginger ale. When in the air, ginger ale’s sweetness is dulled, thus giving it a sharper and crisper taste. Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties that encourage circulation, which could be beneficial when sitting for hours on a long flight. Fresh ginger also helps ease nausea that may occur while traveling — just be aware that popular brands like Canada Dry and Schweppes have far too little real ginger (and too much sugar) to provide any notable anti-inflammatory benefits, but many travelers enjoy the taste.

Tomato-based beverages are another popular option in the air, as their strong flavor profile still shines even with dulled taste buds. This includes plain tomato juice or even cocktails like a bloody mary. Studies show that tomato juice tastes crisper and more refreshing in the air, providing a satisfying umami flavor. Tomatoes are also rich in antioxidants and have noted anti-inflammatory benefits, which could help promote circulation during long flights. Keep in mind that these drinks often contain high levels of sodium that could contribute to dehydration, so be sure to supplement any tomato-based drinks with bottled water.

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