Water Ban May Tap out Airlines

The new rule banning U.S. air travelers from bringing aboard bottled water leaves it to airlines to quench passengers' thirst. Unfortunately, many may not be up to the task.

About 15 percent of tap water from domestic and foreign airlines in 2004 was found unfit to drink, containing organisms such as E. coli, a bacteria that can cause diarrhea, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.

''It's something we have to look at urgently,'' EPA spokesman Dale Kemery said Thursday.

While most airlines serve bottled drinking water, few carry enough for the entire flight because of weight and space limits. When supplies run out, flight attendants turn to the tap.

''We fill pitchers with ice and tap water. We make lemonade from it,'' said Hettie Collins, a United Airlines flight attendant with 29 years' experience. She said the water has never made her ill.

U.S. authorities imposed an indefinite ban on carry-on bottles of water and other liquids and gels after Britain's foiled terror plot.


''If they make the ban permanent, I can see a little frustration,'' said Kelli Hawthorne, a consultant who travels.

The air in most plane cabins is drier than the Sahara Desert, with humidity levels at 10 percent or less, causing fliers to become dehydrated.

Travelers, of course, can always turn to soda or juice.

''We have always provisioned our aircraft as if there are no passengers bringing their own drinks, so the impact is not very great,'' said Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American Airlines.

''However, after evaluating today, caterers will board additional water and soda on all flights to and from the United States.''

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