Think Twice Before Ordering Coffee Aboard an Airplane?

A cup of coffee rests on a tray table aboard an Airbus A319 aircraft on Bangkok Airways flight 242 from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui. Photograph by FlyerTalk member KLflyerRalph.

While perusing through the Delta SkyMiles forum on FlyerTalk, there were no fewer than three discussions on the first “page” which caught my eye — all about coffee.

FlyerTalk member Thomas Hudson wondered whether or not Delta Air Lines once again switched vendors for the coffee served aboard its fleet of aircraft, as he claims that the coffee was “undrinkable” aboard two flights on which he flew recently as a passenger within the same day.

Perhaps the possibility that not enough passengers were willing to consume the coffee was one reason why FlyerTalk member donnak caught a flight attendant dumping coffee in the lavatory toilet on a recent Delta Air Lines flight from Milwaukee to Atlanta — with the pot touching the toilet seat in the process.

I am not certain as to how many people lick the outside of a coffee pot, but some FlyerTalk members found that revelation disgusting anyway; while other FlyerTalk members question as to why it even matters.

Then again, I probably would rather see the coffee dumped in the lavatory toilet than all over me, as is what purportedly happened to FlyerTalk member chrisw73 on a recent Delta Air Lines flight. The flight attendant reportedly explained that there was an issue with the coffee pot as the coffee flowed all over chrisw73 on the arm and lap, causing chrisw73 to momentarily suffer from painful burns — although not nearly seriously enough to require medical attention. Even after the hotel property at which chrisw73 was staying as a guest laundered the affected clothes, the coffee stains would not disappear.

Perhaps the incident involving chrisw73 is related to a safety alert issued within the past couple of weeks by the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States, warning that pre-packaged filters incorrectly placed in coffee brewing devices used aboard the aircraft of many airlines are supposedly susceptible to a building up of pressure, resulting in an “explosion” when an unsuspecting flight attendant lifts the coffee pot to pour a cup for a passenger during a flight.

Several cases of flight attendants and passengers suffering from first-degree and second-degree burns aboard aircraft while in flight have apparently already been reported. If this is true, then chrisw73 was rather fortunate.

Exploding filters, lavatory toilets and bad taste may not be all about which coffee drinkers aboard aircraft during a flight need to be concerned.

An investigation by FlyerTalk member T-wiz for what started off as a school project back in 2002 demonstrated that the quality of water aboard aircraft was suspect at best. It reportedly contained such bacteria as fecal coliform, Escherichia coli — also known by the more popular term as E. coli — and salmonella on seven out of nine flights.

This reportedly led to an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, which after several months and a significant amount of money invested to fund their own tests supposedly also found — among other things — insect eggs which hatched into maggots only days later, in addition to purportedly confirming the original findings of T-wiz.

Should you think twice about ordering coffee during a flight — or even having ice in your drink, for that matter?

I am personally not affected, as I am not a coffee drinker. I usually request orange juice or carbonated soft drinks — both without ice, simply because I prefer drinking my beverages that way. They are pre-packaged and untouched by flight attendants. I can assure you, however, that the plastic cups used aboard aircraft are sterilized and untouched by human hands until after the package is opened by a flight attendant, as I have personally witnessed the entire process of the manufacturing of those cups.

Of course, you could purchase your own coffee and bring it aboard an aircraft — but that apparently has its own safety issues.

So what are coffee drinkers to do without getting tea-ed off? They have bean quite patient on the grounds of all of these percolating issues over the years solely to enjoy that momentary respite offered as one of the perks of consuming a cup of coffee while flying through the clouds — as opposed to having clouds in your coffee, as famously sung by Carly Simon in the 1972 song You’re So Vain.

I am not a coffee drinker, so I cannot scoop any definitive answers and spoon-feed them to you — which might potentially stir up some controversy anyway. Order that cup of Java on your way to Java, as it is probably best to milk the experience of enjoying that supposed cream-of-the-crop beverage as much as possible and sweeten it in any way you can without worrying about the consequences.

I doubt that you will die from maggots eating away at your stomach as a result…

Comments (Showing 5 of 5)

  • Itan2Much at 11:34am January 13, 2013

    Or, you can do what I do. Order a Bailey’s/Coffee. That way, the FA pours the coffee in the galley . . . and, it tastes GREAT!

  • ludocdoc at 11:23am January 14, 2013

    It’s Escherichia Coli that one has to worry about; and that is what most people in medicine think of when E.Coli is mentioned. Entamoeba coli is not dangerous (other Entamoebas are)

  • Brian Cohen at 3:07pm January 14, 2013

    Thank you for the correction, ludocdoc. I appreciate it and have corrected it.

  • rwmiller56 at 3:22pm January 14, 2013

    On a few occasions, I have felt mildly sick after drinking airplane coffee. At best, it does not taste very good. I try to avoid it now, but it’s difficult on long haul flights.

  • ristretto at 5:13pm January 14, 2013

    The taste problem usually stems from how and when the coffee is brewed. Once you brew a batch (or grind, or roast for that matter) you start a sequence of reactions that can not be undone or slowed significantly. Drip coffee begins to taste overly acidic after 30 minutes and is worthless at 45. Holding old coffee on a hot surface accelerates the process.

    From what I’ve seen most FAs start brewing the coffee for a flight as boarding commences, creating nasty, acrid coffee before the plane even leaves the ground. On long haul flights you risk drinking coffee that is several hours old as the flight goes on.

    As a coffee professional (read: snob) I’ve given up on in-flight coffee. I’m much happier ordering a cup once I’m on the ground.

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