By Travel columnist
updated 9/8/2005 1:00:38 PM ET 2005-09-08T17:00:38

The only lavatory on the plane is locked tight. But Roy Bohlin's nine-year-old son is well-hydrated. So well-hydrated that he's about to ... well, you get the idea. Find out how American Airlines responds when a short-haul flight becomes an in-continental trip.

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Q: Our family recently flew from Dallas to Columbus, Ohio, on an American Eagle regional jet. The aircraft had only one lavatory.

We waited on the plane at the gate for nearly an hour for a couple of passengers to make their connection. Soon after liftoff, the flight attendant noticed that the toilet had not been emptied and was starting to back up. He then locked the restroom door.

For health reasons, we always hydrate thoroughly before and during flights. With about an hour to go on the flight, our nine-year-old son needed to use the restroom and found it out of order.

We were told that the restroom could not be used. Our son struggled for the next 40 minutes, then finally gave us that desperate look and pleaded to use the facility. I went to the flight attendant and told him that an accident was imminent.

Finally, he relented, but by the time he opened the restroom, it was too late. Of course, our son was humiliated to have urinated in his pants and on the seat and was very uncomfortable for the rest of the trip. The flight attendant was most apologetic and encouraged us to file a complaint.

We submitted our complaint to the Web site, and got a form response saying they were sorry, but they had done the best they could. I don’t think they did. Any thoughts?

— Roy Bohlin, Fresno, Calif.

A: How humiliating. Apologizing for the incident is certainly a good start, but I’m not sure whether American owes you anything more.

Are airlines required to take off with a working bathroom? I checked the Code of Federal Regulations, and although there are plenty of rules about smoking in the lavatories and being able to hear in-flight announcements, I was unable to find any requirement that a commercial flight have at least one working restroom.

In other words, I’m not sure American broke any laws by locking the loo. But it may have bent some common-decency rules by closing the only restroom in mid air and instructing passengers like your son to “hold it.”

As the father of a three-year-old who is just about potty trained, I am completely sympathetic to your situation. However, there are a few precautions you can take to make sure this doesn’t happen to you again. First, I would recommend not excessively hydrating before flying. Being exposed to bone-dry cabin air for a couple of hours won’t turn you into a prune.

Telling a child to suck down a bottle of water is risky. If you do, at least use the airport restroom facilities before you board the plane.

I contacted American Airlines, which took another look at your case. The company admitted that it was a little slow to reopen the restroom on your flight. As a make-good gesture, it offered you a travel voucher for $200 — plus a check for $50 earmarked for your son. I think that’s a generous and sensitive resolution.


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