The British regional airline, Flybe was forced to delay several flights earlier this week after urgently withdrawing the onboard bottled water supplies for its pilots. But while the quality and safety of onboard drinking water has been called into question many times in the past, the problem affecting Flybe was actually to do with the bottled water it provided crew.
The Unite union has slammed the airline, claiming it had repeatedly warned managers about the brand of bottled water it was buying. If accusations levelled by union are to be believed, executives at Flybe refused to meet their demands because it would cost an additional two pence per bottle for an upgraded and presumably better quality and safer brand.
“The problem this week was a result of a batch of water that staff had been drinking for several days, which was found to be potentially contaminated with E.coli when several of the crew who drank it developed stomach upsets,” the union claimed in a statement.
According to the NHS, an E.coli bacterial infection severe stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhoea. The symptoms normally clear within a week but in some cases can be serious or even life-threatening.
In a statement to the BBC, a spokesperson for Flybe said they “thoroughly assessed the situation and took precautionary measures, including the immediate removal and replacement of all possibly affected bottled water.”
Adding some colour to the official airline narrative, the union said any pilots who had drunk the potentially contaminated water had to be pulled from their rostered duties in case they became ill and perhaps incapacitated during a flight – hence why some flights had to be delayed.
Apparently, the union had tried to get Flybe management to change the brand of water several times because of concerns over its safety, including high sodium levels. On each occasion, those requests were rejected.
“Flybe’s management must be ashamed that a refusal to spend just two pence extra on bottled water led to such a serious flight disruption this week,” commented Unite’s regional officer, Peter Coulson.
“Unite will now be working with Flybe to ensure that this problem is resolved and that water supplied to all crew members is safe,” he continued.
Flybe has strongly refuted the allegations made by the union and has contacted us with the following statement:
“We are surprised and concerned that Unite has not engaged with Flybe to determine the facts regarding this matter prior to contacting the media.
The bottled drinking water that is supplied by us to our on-duty flight deck and cabin crew is a recognised, reputable and popular brand, sold widely in leading supermarkets and food outlets.
On Wednesday 23rd October 2019, our distributor contacted us following the communication of a national product recall as a precautionary measure due to suspected microbiological contamination.
We took immediate action and conducted a thorough risk assessment to determine any potential health and welfare risk to our crew. As a result there was a limited delay to the departure of some flights on Wednesday evening.
All bottles of the suspected branded water were taken out of circulation and replaced with a different well-known brand.
As a further precautionary measure, we have now changed suppliers and taken delivery of another well-recognised brand of bottled water for use by our crew.
The health and safety of our team and our customers is our first priority at all times.”
Earlier this year, Flybe was bought by a consortium that included Virgin Atlantic which saved the regional carrier from potential collapse. The airline will be rebranded as Virgin Connect early next year and there are plans to greatly increase the airline’s presence across the United Kingdom in order to feed traffic into Virgin Atlantic’s long-haul network.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.