OF THE BLUE
Lessons from "The Lavatory Zone"
By Elliott Hester
this month aboard a United Airlines flight from Miami to Buenos Aires,
Argentina, a enraged passenger (a Uruguayan banker, no less) kicked
a hole in the cockpit door. He then stuck his head and torso through
the hole and was introduced to the blunt end of an axe, which was
wielded by the startled co-pilot (luckily for the assailant, the co-pilot
chose not to use the other end).
plane landed safely in Buenos Aires. The banker, headachy and more
than a little embarrassed, is now in the custody of U.S. authorities.
Strange things sometimes happen in the confines of a cockpit. But
the weirdest stories the real Twilight Zone episodes
often occur in another airplane compartment. A place familiar to your
rear end and mine. "A place," as Rod Serling might have said, "known
as The Lavatory Zone."
Cramped, grimy and occasionally malodorous, the lavatory's main function
is obvious: shall it be a No. 1 or a No. 2? Shall I sit down and flip
through a copy of U.S. News & World Report, or should I get down to
business in consideration of waiting passengers.
Yet on many occasions, passengers choose to use lavatories to gain
entry into the Mile-High Club that infamous society of in-flight
contortionists who seem hell-bent on getting their groove on.
Earlier this month, passengers aboard an American Airlines Flight
101 from London to New York experienced a Mile-High liaison of grand
proportions. Flight attendants told the captain that two British men
were acting suspiciously.
According to the crew the two men made four or five trips to the lavatory.
Each time they entered the cramped compartment together. According
to Federal Aviation Administration officials, "Air Force officials
overheard the captain's radio dispatch to American Airlines operations
and sent two F-16s to intercept the jetliner over the Atlantic Ocean."
The plane landed safely in New York where authorities detained the
two men. Police say the men admitted smoking crack cocaine in the
lavatory. They also admitted to having sex.
A fellow flight attendant told me of another embarrassing sex-in-the-lav
story. Soon after a man and woman entered the lavatory together, a
flight attendant call button rang. It rang again and again, in a rhythmic
pattern that was not unlike the bell at a train crossing. Realizing
that the call emanated from the lavatory in which the couple had entered,
and that the call button was being bumped repeatedly during the throes
of passion, flight attendants stood outside and waited. When the door
finally opened, the red-faced couple was presented with a bottle of
According to recent reports from Reuters, The BBC and other news agencies,
a Scandinavian jetliner (SAS) was the scene of a lavatory atrocity.
An American woman made the mistake of flushing before standing up
and became wedged in by the powerful vacuum action of the 767s flushing
mechanism. "She could not get up by herself and had to sit on the
toilet until the flight had landed," said an SAS spokeswoman.
Now SAS is saying the incident never occurred. But the phenomenon
is not unheard of. A flight attendant at my airline once dealt with
a woman who became stuck to the toilet after flushing. Embarrassed,
the woman drank several alcohol minis before mechanics walked into
the lavatory to pry her loose.
Not to be outdone by passengers, I've had my own embarrassing lavatory
experience. During one particular flight to the Caribbean, I stood
before the toilet on a Boeing 727, eyes closed, pants gathered around
my ankles, answering the primal call of nature. But before I had a
chance to get down to business, I found myself mashed against the
ceiling with my feet dangling precariously above the toilet.
I seemed to float toward the ceiling in a slow-motion ascent that,
for a moment, made me think I was dreaming. I was an astronaut in
the middle of a weightlessness experiment. A wayward British passenger,
high on crack cocaine. With my back pressed high against the lavatory
wall, neck bent against the ceiling at an angle that only a Mile-High
Club contortionist could appreciate, I was at the mercy of God and
The experience brought back childhood memories of an amusement park
ride. Twenty or thirty people entered a large round room devoid of
straps or any safety apparatus. The door shut behind us. A disembodied
voice then instructed us to lean back against the wall. The room spun
slowly at first, then picked up speed, with the centrifugal force
pinning us against the spinning wall. Then the floor dropped, and
we spun around and around, stuck to the wall like wet clothes in the
final wash cycle.
In the next split second, I watched in horror as a couple of gallons
of d-germ came splashing out of the toilet and onto my pants. (D-germ
is the pungent blue chemical that swishes around the toilet bowl after
every flush. It's designed to break down waste and mask unpleasant
odors by creating an unpleasant odor of its own.)
The airplane suddenly regained its composure. Gravity reestablished
its grip. My feet hit the floor and I came sprawling through the open
Nobody on the plane was injured. Everyone, including my fellow crew
members, had been wearing seat belts. Startled and soaked, I strapped
myself into the jump seat, another sad and lowly traveler in The Lavatory