When Airline Lavatories Go Horribly Wrong
Toilets on board airliners can fail or be abused in various ways.
The waste tank fills, the water tank empties,
or a deranged passenger smears his feces all over two lavatory compartments.
And don't expect aircraft toilets to make sense.
aircraft toilet page
explains, there is no requirement for U.S. airliners to provide or clean
However, they are required to have ashtrays and slots to
discard razor blades, even though smoking and razor blades are
illegal on board.
A strange case on January 4, 2018, saw a mentally disturbed man
smear his own feces all over the interior of two lavatories
on board United flight UA 895 from Chicago to Hong Kong.
Then he removed his shirt and attempted to flush that down
one of the toilets.
He had been shaking the seats all around him,
pouring soda and water on the floor,
and spitting food.
The flight diverted to Anchorage, Alaska.
As the man was carrying a Vietnamese passport and a U.S. Permanent Resident
card, and no one could understand what he was saying, the Boeing 777-200
was met in Anchorage by FBI agents and airport police,
along with a Vietnamese translator.
Then the translator couldn't understand him, either.
Most of what he said was entirely unintelligible,
and the rest didn't make sense.
Of course, after someone has smeared their feces over the interior
of two airliner lavatories, you don't necessarily expect a lot of sense.
There weren't any injuries, and he hadn't tried to interfere with
the flight crew.
The shirtless man was handcuffed for his own safety as well as
that of law enforcement, and taken to Anchorage's
Providence Alaska Medical Center, Alaska's largest hospital,
for a mental health assessment.
The aircraft needed a thorough cleaning.
The flight and its 245 remaining passengers was held overnight
in Anchorage, continuing on to Hong Kong the following day.
The story was widely reported, including by the
television station, and the
The 21-to-22-year-old man had been a resident of Oakland, California,
before moving to live with his aunt in Evansville, Indiana.
He had just been released from jail in Evansville two day before
His family had bought him a one-way ticket to Vietnam to live
with other family members.
And in Continuing News of Anchorage and Lavatories
Just over a month later, on
February 7, 2018,
an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Seattle returned to Anchorage
soon after takeoff when a passenger stripped naked, locked himself
in the lavatory, and refused to come out.
He was taken to Anchorage's increasingly busy facility
for evaluating the mental health of airline passengers.
Toilet on board a Delta MD-88 airliner.
Oops, Where's My Gun?
On April 6, 2017, a Delta B767-300 was on flight DL 221 from Manchester (UK)
to New York JFK.
A passenger went into the lavatory and found a loaded gun.
The passenger handed the gun to the cabin crew, who returned it to its owner,
a US Air Marshal.
The U.S. Transportation Safety Agency or TSA confirmed that they are
aware of the incident, and they sincerely wish that no one else
knew about it.
Also see the item about the U.S. Capitol Police
leaving their guns in bathrooms.
Toilets Full, Stop At Billings, Montana
Even though on-board toilets aren't required in the U.S. or in some
other countries, airlines are trying to make money.
If a story gets out that they are keeping people on board, in their seats,
without any functioning toilets, that would really hurt their business.
So, you get cases like the Delta flight from New York JFK to Seattle
that made an unscheduled stop in Billings, Montana.
The Boeing 757-200 performing flight DL 453 was about 180 nautical miles
north of Billings when all toilets indicated that they were full,
no longer operating, while passengers were queueing up and telling
the flight attendants that they needed "to go really bad".
There was no gate available, so the plane had to taxi to a cargo area.
Meanwhile, further messages were getting passed along from several
passengers reporting that they "needed to find a lavatory
Ground crew rolled a staircase to the plane and escorted the
passengers into the terminal.
The plane's toilets were serviced, and it was refueled.
The flight continued after the unscheduled ground stop of about 3 hours,
reaching Seattle about 3.5 hours after its scheduled arrival time.
Lavatory on board a Delta MD-88 airliner.
Toilets Not Working, Return To Oslo
On January 28, 2018, a Norwegian Air Shuttle Boeing 737-800 on flight DY 1156
from Oslo to Munich turned around and landed back at Oslo 62 minutes
after leaving because the toilets were not working.
on DY 1156
The irony was that 84 of the passengers were plumbers,
apparently en route to some plumbing convention or trade show in Germany.
The aircraft was serviced in Oslo. (by ground crew, not the passengers!)
It then departed as flight DY 8406 and reached Munich 3.5 hours after
the scheduled arrival time.
Locked in the Lavatory
On September 25, 2019, United flight UA 1554 from Washington National
to San Francisco diverted to Denver because a passenger was stuck
in the aft lavatory of their Boeing 737-800.
on UA 1554
The aft lavatory door had malfunctioned,
and it could not be unlocked and opened.
The plane landed about 30 minutes later, and airport emergency services
boarded the aircraft and forced the door open.
A replacement Boeing 737-800 continued the flight and got everyone
to San Francisco about 2:45 hours late.
Toilets Full, Return To San Francisco
On January 14th, 2018, United flight UA 1219 from Denver, Colorado
to Lihue, Hawaii, was out over the Pacific Ocean when all toilets
failed with indications of full tanks.
on UA 1219
The crew decided to return to the mainland, turning and flying ENE to
San Francisco and landing there about two hours later.
A replacement Boeing 757-200 carried the passengers and their baggage
on to Hawaii,
landing at Lihue about 8 hours after the scheduled arrival time.
The airline described it as "a mechanical issue".
Passengers reported that crew members hinted that the toilets had
not been serviced in Denver.
Toilets Full, Stop In Montreal
On July 3, 2017, Air Canada Rouge flight RV 1901 from Athens, Greece
to Toronto was en route west near Montreal when all toilets indicated
that their tanks were full.
on RV 1901
The crew immediately declared PAN, less urgent than MAYDAY,
and diverted to a landing at Montreal.
The plane, a Boeing 767-300, remained on the ground just 90 minutes
while the crew determined that the indication was false.
They then continued to Toronto, arriving 2 hours and 20 minutes late.
U.S. Patent #3,922,730 for aircraft toilet and waste storage system.
Toilets Full, Return To Amsterdam
On May 28, 2017, a Transavia Boeing 737-800 on flight HV 5807 from
Amsterdam to Thessaloniki was en route near Cologne when the crew
received notice that no toilets were working.
on HV 5807
The turned around and returned to Amsterdam,
landing there about 45 minutes later.
The airline transferred the passengers and their baggage to a replacement
B737-800, reaching Thessaloniki 6 hours after the scheduled arrival time.
Unbearable And Unhealthy Stench, Return To London
reported that a British Airways B747-400 flying from London Heathrow to Dubai
turned back and returned to London within 30 minutes of takeoff
because of what the pilot described on the intercom as
"liquid faecal excrement".
The pilot had first made an announcement requesting senior cabin crew.
About ten minutes later, he announced to the passengers that they may
have noticed "a quite pungent smell" coming from one of the toilets.
The airline's public statement said,
"A decision was taken to return for the safety and comfort
of our customers on board."
A British Airways spokesperson said,
"When you're up at that altitude the cabin has to be pressurised
so the problem is that anything like that is actually a health and safety
problem because only 50 percent of the air is being recycled and cleaned."
The next flight was 15 hours later, so the passengers were put up
overnight at a hotel near London Gatwick.
No Lavatory Water, Back To London
on MH 1
A Malaysian Airlines A380-800 had started flight MH 1 from London Heathrow
to Kuala Lumpur.
They were as far as Brussels when the crew decided to turn back to London,
the lavatories could not operate as they did not have water.
It's a 12.75 hour flight from London to Kuala Lumpur,
there's no way that everyone can simply hold it for over half a day.
Because of night curfew (the original flight left after 9 PM)
and flight duty time restrictions,
the flight had to be postponed to the next day.
Toilet on board a KLM Boeing 747.
A Drunk Guy Locked Himself In The Bathroom, Get The Ax
In August 2015, a drunk passenger locked himself in the lavatory
on a flight in Sweden.
It was a Nextjet flight from Stockholm to Ornskoldsvik.
The flight was getting close to its destination, getting close to landing,
and the crew announced for everyone to return to their seats.
The crew repeatedly told him to return to his seat,
but he refused, holding the door locked.
(Because you can unlock the door from outside, although on some
designs it might take a special tool or makeshift replacement.)
The pilot used a fire ax to pry the door open so they could
pull the man out and stuff him into his seat.
He wasn't taken into custody, but the crew believed that he was in violation
of Swedish aviation law and could face a fine or up to six months in jail
if the prosecutors decided to pursue the case.
There's A Maintenance Facility In San Francisco,
So Everyone Hold It Until We Get There, OK?
A United B777-200 had left Chicago on flight UA 851 to Beijing,
when the crew reported a lavatory problem.
That flight proceeds nearly due north out of Chicago,
en route to China.
When they discovered the problem
they were close to Baker Lake, Nunavut, the Canadian Arctic's only
sizeable inland community.
(and being in the Canadian Arctic,
its population of 2,069 qualifies as sizeable)
on UA 851
UA 851 takes about 13.5 hours from Chicago to Beijing.
They told everyone to use the remaining lavatories sparingly
and diverted to San Francisco.
That is not on the way to Beijing unless you're looking at
a Mercator map.
But San Francisco does house a United Maintenance facility.
They reached San Francisco about 4.5 hours later.
About 3 hours after that, the passengers and their baggage left on a
replacement B777-200, and arrived in Beijing about 10 hours after
their scheduled arrival time.