Enjoy your flight, but don’t drink the water. That was the message to passengers on some Cathay Pacific flights after bacterial levels in drinking water on 14 aircraft were found to be over safety levels, according to the Department of Health.

The aircraft involved – about 10 per cent of the airline’s fleet – included Airbus 330s, Boeing 747s and Boeing 777s. A spokesman for Cathay Pacific confirmed that the affected water samples had failed to meet the high standards required by their regular laboratory tests. The airline had already explained the situation to its staff, he said in an RTHK interview.

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Boeing 747, one of the affected aircraft types. Photo: Christian Junker – AHKGAP via Flickr.

The airline has immediately taken emergency measures such as switching to bottled water and broadcasting inflight announcements advising passengers against using tap water to brush their teeth. Cup noodles, which required steeping in the affected water, have now been replaced with sandwiches.

However, Lai Yuk-sim, chair of the airline’s Flight Attendants Union said that Cathay Pacific had not explained to its staff exactly what the problem was. Lai said that the airline only asked its flight attendants to broadcast announcements asking passengers not to drink unboiled water. Lai added that she is worried about the tainted water and hoped that Cathay Pacific would be able to offer an explanation.

Passenger Mr. Lau told Apple Daily that he was unaware of the contamination, but had noticed the inflight announcements. Lau’s flight from Manila to Hong Kong was one of the aircraft affected by the bacterial contamination.

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Cathay Pacific aircraft. Photo: Michael Rehfeldt via Flickr.

As of Thursday, Cathay Pacific is unable to confirm the cause of contamination. The Department of Health is investigating with Cathay Pacific, Airport Authority and airport ground handling service providers.

The Hong Kong flag carrier airline attained third place at Skytrax’s World Top 10 Airlines 2015 awards, and was ranked fourth in the World’s Cleanest Aircraft Cabins prize.

Results from the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 indicated that one in every ten American aeroplanes contained contaminated water. Bacteria in water can cause nausea and diarrhoea if consumed.

Photo: Christian Junker – AHKGAP via Flickr.

Paul Benedict Lee is an undergraduate law student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Paul has previously contributed to HK Magazine and Radio Television Hong Kong, covering issues ranging from local heritage conservation to arts features. He has also worked as a legal intern at local human rights firm Daly & Associates.