Don’t pay the airlines for water

Reading today’s blog entry from travel consumer writer Chris Elliott (“The coming dehydration crisis for airline passengers”), I was disconcerted to learn that the new policy US Airways is implementing for charging passengers for soft drinks includes charging them for bottled water (read the press release from the airline).

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a huge fan of drinking “tap water” from airplanes—they’re regular water hosed into a holding tank on the plane. On drinking water on airplanes, travel safety advocate and author Diana Fairechild says:

I stopped drinking airplane water my first year of flying after I saw floating particles in the water, and also after I saw mechanics filling the airplane water tanks from hoses on the runways, wherever we landed–even Bombay.

Serving tap water to passengers is common because the airlines don’t provide enough bottled water. They prefer to fill the limited supply spaces on board with liquor and soft drinks, both of which actually increase the passengers’ jetlag because they exacerbate dehydration.

I have a one-word reaction for ya: Ewwww.

The problem is, you can’t take your own bottle of water through airport security. You have to pay money for a new bottle of water once you’ve passed security. And if you have a long flight, that one-liter bottle of water probably won’t cut it for you.

You might argue that if I can afford to pay for an airline ticket, I should be able to spend $3.00 for a bottle of water, yes? Except that I think it’s ridiculous that the airline is charging for clean water. Food? Sure. Salted peanuts? OK. Booze? Of course. But clean water? Aircraft cabins are very dry and it’s common for people to wind up with symptoms of dehydration; I’m with Chris Elliott on this one—US Airways has some gall. I think I’d refuse to buy their bottled water on principle.

What to do if you don’t want to keep paying for overpriced bottled water at airports? Assuming that the water from drinking fountains at aiports is potable (that is, safe for drinking), my suggestion is that you take an empty vessel with you to fill once you get past security:

Refill a disposable water bottle – the easiest method is to take an empty disposable water bottle. If you’re the type that wants to look like you just bought a new bottle of Evian, this is one way to go. This way you can easily toss them when you’re done. As long as your bottle is empty, you can take it through airport security without a problem.

A few years ago, Evian used to sell the Nomad, which made carrying them really easy. I stopped seeing them about five years ago, although I saw them a few years ago in Singapore.

Evian Nomad
The Evian Nomad; alas, no longer sold in the U.S.

Bring and fill your own reusable bottle – For a while, Nalgene had a real hit on its hands with its wide-mouth Lexan bottles (purchase here). You couldn’t walk through a college campus without seeing these dangling off of people’s bag straps.

The popular Nalgene bottle.
The popular 32-ounce Nalgene drinking bottle.

The problem was, you had to unscrew the top to drink from it, and because the opening was wide, you were likely to have some splash issues if you were say, flying in turbulence. Nalgene has begun selling modified versions of their popular bottle, but for my penny I’d rather spend it on the Camelbak Better Bottle (purchase here).

The Camelbak Better Bottle
The Camelbak Better Bottle.

Unlike its Nalgene cousin, the Better bottle uses Camelbak’s patented “bite-valve” straw. It means no leaks, no splashes, no unscrewing the top to drink. The loop in the handle means you can hang these off your bag, and the plastic is the same hearty stuff that Nalgene uses.

Use a collapsible water bottle – One really good option is the Platypus. Not nearly as common as other bottles, this one is marketed specifically for backpackers and travelers, and seems to be a custom fit for our particular situation. Designed for backpackers, the Platypus Platy Bottles (purchase here) are made of thick flexible plastic that collapses completely flat. They come in various sizes, and you can easily carry a couple of these with you for your flight. Just fill them up at a water fountain once you’re past security. Slip them into the seatback pocket in front of you, and you’re all set.

The Platypus Platy Bottles
The Platypus Platy Bottles.

The Platy bottle is probably your best solution if you have to fly US Airways. My suggestion? Fly another airline.


  1. I agree. On a recent round the world trip this is exactly what we did and in all but one airport we were able to find water of some type to fill the bottles. Amazing the number that don’t have water fountains but lots do. In some we had to take them to the loos and fill from the wash basins.
    Going through security we were at times questioned about the bottles but when we pointed out that they were empty they were allowed through.

  2. I’m a previous flight attendant for Continental Airlines, and providing water to passengers is very important. When flying, we become dehydrated. If there are particles floating in airplane tap water or the water is unsanitary, how can the airlines get away with this? Sounds like 60 Minutes or someone needs to test the tap water on airlines. 😉

  3. There are some great personal water filters on the market. If you dont want to spend the money on a good one the the old purie tabs are a good back up. Has gotten me through some dodgy areas.

  4. My all-time favorite water bottle is The Evian Nomad. It’s easy to drink from, easy to carry. There’s is nothing that I found in the ”newest” trends that can come even close to that style and design. I’ve thrown away all of the new trendy ones that I’ve purchased. I dislike the large mouth openings, the nasty metal feel of the bottle on my lips, the hard to clean straw types, and most of them are too unnatural to carry. They are actually awkward to hold and take with you! So I’m not falling for the new, chic and trendy and so eco-friendly, environmentally trey chic. I wish that Evian would reintroduce their bottles with the loop on them. When I buy bottled water I look for the bottles that are comfortable to carry and drink from. I pour the water out at home anyway and fill it with my own filtered water! I just want a water bottle that’s user friendly and the Evian was THE BEST!!!! I miss it dearly. EVIAN, please bring back the loop-nomad bottles to the USA!

  5. Waterbaby — I, too, loved the Evian Nomad! I used to carry one around with me when they were easy to find in stores. I was delighted when I saw some available in Singapore a few years ago even after they become hard to find in the U.S. I’d be just as happy with a slightly more rugged nondisposable version. It had a great form factor and it was very convenient to carry.

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