Ice Isn’t So Nice on Airplanes

by Anthony Losanno
Drink with Ice

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I’ve avoided drinking coffee and tea on planes forever. I don’t trust that the water tanks are ever cleaned and even though the water is heated, it always seemed pretty gross to me. Apparently, hot beverages aren’t the only thing to watch as a recent study found that the ice is also a little suspect.

While coffee and tea are made with water housed onboard, ice is provided by third-party vendors and loaded onto flights throughout the day. According to a recent article in Travel & Leisure, 60 ice cubes were sampled from both domestic and industrial ice facilities and more than 50 different strains of bacteria were found. They’re citing a 2017 peer-reviewed study published in the Annals of Microbiology that stated:

A consistent percentage of the microorganisms identified from ice are known agents of human infections, and their presence indicates an environmental contamination.”


I had never thought about the ice being contaminated, but as mentioned above, I have been sketched out by the in-flight water supply for some time. Apparently, there is some validity to my neurosis as a 2019 peer-reviewed study by the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center at the City University of New York found the drinking water on 11 major and 12 regional airlines to be possibly unsafe for consumption. The only airlines who (barely) passed the safe threshold were Allegiant Air, Alaska Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines.

No solution was given for the hot water issue, but if you want ice then researchers recommend ordering an alcoholic beverage since the alcohol will kill some of the bacteria.

Anthony’s Take: As if I needed another thing to stress about, I can now add in-flight ice to the list. I might be drinking my ginger ale warm on my next flight.

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FrequentWanderer June 19, 2023 - 9:50 pm

It is a conundrum. There are environmental consequences to bringing one’s own bottled water on board. If one adds alcohol, there is the risk of worsened jet lag and dehydration. I wonder if it’s about as bad as drinking tap water? Some people do . . . Maybe it’s more like taking your immune system to the gym – a little exercise with ice-borne pathogens?

Hal June 19, 2023 - 10:13 pm

Here’s the problem, US airlines serve crap whiskey/bourbons in J/F so I don’t want to drink it neat. I drink water with no ice anyways. At least when I’m flying an ME3 or some Asian airline in F, they serve higher qualify stuff to drink neat.

RPCV June 20, 2023 - 3:49 am

After 42 years of being a flight attendant with UA, (retired now) I’ve used inflight ice and drank coffee and tea from all my travels around the world with no issues. If inflight ice, coffee and tea don’t get you, Mother Nature and global warming WILL!

DaninMCI June 20, 2023 - 5:16 am

Just don’t go check the ice at the local restaurant, convenience store soda machine, or even your own refrigerator. It’s common to have contamination in ice. How often do you think the local restaurant cleans the ice machine? How often do you clean the ice maker at home? It’s best to avoid all ice you don’t freeze by hand in ice trays.

Learob June 20, 2023 - 5:59 am

Complete over reaction.

As a pilot for a major airline I can tell you that water tanks on aircraft are sanitized as part of on going maintenance procedures. Ice is handled the Same way as it is in any grocery store. I have drank coffee and used ice for almost 30 years and NEVER had a problem, or know of any one who had any problems with them.

Please stop with the hysterical clickbait.
Stop with the cli

Dave June 20, 2023 - 10:37 am

What Learob said.

Eric June 20, 2023 - 9:35 am

Such a dramatic post. I hope you don’t eat out at restaurants. If you are worried about bacteria in the ice on airplanes imagine all the bacteria in the food & ice at restaurants at local restaurants.

This post reminds me of those people that take hand wipes to diligently rub down the handles on grocery carts. The do it because of all the attention it has received. Then they proceed into the store and touch countless number of items including produce, stocked items on shelves, screens upon checkouts, and other items without thinking twice about it. It’s hilarious to see this idiocy.


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