Given the need for hydration during air travel, and the unwelcome effects of in-flight alcohol consumption, Annette Farr believes airlines should be offering a far wider and more exciting soft drinks selection on-board.

Long gone are the days when air travel was exciting and glamorous. Better to travel than arrive, Robert Louis Stevenson famously said. Nowadays the whole business is simply tortuous.

Not only does the passenger have to endure interminably long queues to check in, but there also follows an undignified scrum at security, now heightened in the wake of recent terrorist alerts. All this in an atmosphere which zaps your energy and makes you thirsty.

Earlier this month, I was booked on a United Airlines flight from London to San Francisco via Chicago. Stringent security measures had led to even greater cattle-like treatment. There was no time for that much-needed drink in the relative comfort of an airport departure lounge cafe.

However, when I did eventually reach the departure gate I spied a Coca-Cola vending machine. Parched and frustrated as I was, here was my salvation - a drink - and bearing in mind Coca-Cola Enterprise's summer advertising campaign highlighting the wide variety of beverages within its portfolio (Nestea, Minute Maid, Roses, Oasis, Schweppes, Powerade, 5 Alive, Malvern water et al.) I was anticipating choice.

Sadly I was to be disappointed. The machine was stocked with the 'usual suspects' - Coca-Cola, more cola variants, Fanta, Sprite, and, thankfully, Malvern.

There's nothing more refreshing than water when you are really thirsty, so this was purchased but not allowed to be taken on board (as was the case with all bottled drinks). Once on board and finally cleared for take-off - some three and a half hours late - the drinks trolley came round.

Although it has been a feature - virtually a prerequisite in fact - of passenger air travel since its early days, alcohol and altitude do not mix. The dry air in an aircraft causes dehydration, and alcohol is much more intoxicating when drunk at altitude than ground level. And since alcohol also lowers inhibitions it can, and does, lead to air rage incidents.

A perfect opportunity, one would have thought, for the airline to offer an interesting variety of soft beverages. Think smoothies, the myriad new fruit flavour combinations, super-berry juices, iced teas, enhanced waters, dairy drinks. After all, the soft drinks industry is the most innovative amongst all FMCG markets when it comes to new product development.

Disappointment again. The trolley offered Aquafina water, Minute Maid orange juice, Motts apple juice and PepsiCo sodas.

PepsiCo and United Airlines signed a multi-year partnership in 2002. In what amounted to a major coup, the arrangement made Pepsi and Diet Pepsi the cola of choice on all of United's domestic and international flights, replacing Coca-Cola and Diet Coke.

At the same time, United and PepsiCo announced they would work together on marketing initiatives such as the TV special 'Pepsi Play for a Billion'. United provided transport for all contestants and linked with the Play For a Billion website.

This sort of mutually beneficial marketing alliance is mirrored elsewhere amongst international carriers and the soft drink behemoths. It provides a win-win for the blue chips but not necessarily for passengers faced with such a paucity of choice. My chosen airline, a leading American carrier, did not even offer iced tea.

Now that passengers are prohibited from taking their own bottled drinks on board - a ruling unlikely to be revoked - it is even more imperative that airlines address their shortfalls in the soft drinks department.

Travel consultants advise that hydration is crucial in countering the dry air in the steel tube and easing the effects of jet lag. Alcohol avoidance is also suggested. On-board advice encourages passengers to drink lots of water.

A 500ml complimentary bottle of water needs to be automatically included with the paraphernalia of blanket, pillow and headset pack. At the same time, a wide-ranging selection of non-alcoholic drinks should replace the miniatures and mixers as the mainstay of the drinks trolley.