The Seattle Times reports that Horizon Air — the regional subsidiary of Alaska Airlines — was warned by the Food and Drug Administration to stop serving beverages with ice on its planes. The issue is that none of the Bombardier Q400 aircraft operated by Horizon have sinks in their lavatories.
I’m not particularly germaphobic, even with nine years of experience working in research laboratories around some nasty stuff. But the FDA does have a point. Food service is an area that is at particular risk for spreading illness, and aircraft are especially challenging to keep clean given the number of passengers who pass through them each day.
To be clear, I’m not saying that Horizon Air planes are unclean or dangerous. I’m just saying that it’s a greater challenge. That’s effectively what the FDA is saying, too, and that they think new measures are required to meet that challenge.
Horizon Air already serves all its food in individually wrapped packages. It’s mostly pretzels and chocolate bars. Sodas are provided in cans and don’t require ice. Just ask Europe. Cocktail service is rare. Wine and beer are not in individual containers, but they do go directly from the bottle to a cup.
So if the FDA is concerned about ice in particular then I think that threat is minor and easy enough to address. This will also become less of an issue as Horizon Air takes on new Embraer E175 planes with larger lavatories and first class cabins. (The guy the Seattle Times interviewed, Roy Costa, claims adding sinks is an obvious and easy task. Keep in mind that he’s a public health expert and not an aviation expert.)
What bothers me more are those airlines that have sinks and fail to stock them appropriately. I’m not the only person who’s walked into the back of a United Express or American Eagle plane to find that the sink has no water and is instead filled with wet naps or hand sanitizer.