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Adefolake Adekola: Are You Sure You Want to Drink Tea on the Plane?



Where are my tea lovers? See, my love for tea should be studied. I actually think it is hereditary because my late grandmothers used jugs to drink tea and often felt insulted when served with small cups. Any type of tea in a bag with or without milk – coffee, cappuccino, even green tea, makes me happy – just give me hot water and something inside. So it is impossible for me to be on a flight and not drink tea. When someone mentioned that the water used for tea on planes is gotten from the toilet, I felt a bit disgusted but as a tea lover, I convinced myself the water is hot so every bacteria will be killed.

While watching Sound of Metal, I was wondering where the water in the caravan comes from and goes to. This made me start thinking of airplanes. The water from airplanes comes from a water system where the airplane is parked. For example, an airplane from London to Abuja would mean that both cities have water storage facilities and a pipe network with water used to transfer water into the airplane. This water is the same used in the airport and all around that vicinity. And if you are wondering where the wastewater from the toilet goes to, it is a tank at the rear of the plane and it is emptied into a service truck when the plane lands. The usage of water is not limited to only those who drink tea or coffee but also to nursing mothers who prepare baby food and even rinsing food equipment, brushing teeth in the toilet and so on.

Handschuh, Dwyer and Adley conducted research in 2015 to identify the quality of aircraft water and the possibility of the presence of bacteria. A total of 154 water samples were collected and analysed and it was discovered that long haul flights (6 to 12 hours) had an increased level of bacteria that short haul flights (30 minutes to 3 hours). Although, these bacteria do not fall into dangerous infectious microorganisms.

The tank that holds the water is topped up but rarely emptied completely; it is only done when the water system is serviced. There are policies governing the water on an aircraft such as ensuring the water system operators are certified and the regular cleaning of the tanks. In developed countries like the USA, the Environmental Protection Agency ensures that the standards are met and if they are not or if the presence of bacteria is present, the airline is required to empty the water system and flush out the old water.

In developing countries like Nigeria, can we trust the water supply? Can we trust the certification of the personnel involved? So imagine an airline that shuttles Nigeria and a developed country, if they had to refill in Nigeria, how would you know the conditions of the water?

Even with all the measures put in place in developed countries, air hostesses have vowed never to take tea or coffee on the plane because of the conditions of the water. One hostess mentioned the water smells while the other said that she was certain the tank was washed once a year.

What are the solutions to this?

  • An alternative drink like juice or a fizzy drink for the passengers might be an option.
  • Reduce your consumption of tea or coffee on flights.
  • Drink bottled/packaged water.
  • Nursing mothers should use bottled/packaged water to mix baby food.
  • Aircraft water should be regularly tested.
  • Stricter policies governing aircraft water especially in developing countries.


Photo credit: Pexels

Adefolake Ayotunde-Salami is a Social Safeguard Consultant on World Bank Assisted Projects. She has a B.Sc, M.Sc and hold numerous certifications. She is also an Independent Consultant for top companies in Nigeria and has work experience in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. She is the author of a book on Amazon and Smashwords titled “Functioning In The Knowledge Of Who You Are” and a website ( where she writes articles based on extensive research. She is a Columnist for Bellanaija, Nigeria's biggest blog.  

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