It seems like there's never any shortage of scandals and drama when it comes to flying on airplanes, and this latest Delta flight that experienced some restroom trouble is no different. Whether it's flight attendants catching people trying to enter the mile-high club, or cussing near babies, there's something about travel that brings out the worst in people.
And although there are lots of instances where complete morons ruin flights for other people, I'd argue that there are plenty of occasions where passengers are in the wrong and have no reason to be acting out.
On the other hand, there are also tons of policies and practices instituted by airlines that make you want to bash your head against a wall because they're just so darn illogical. You can add this Delta flight story to the long list of times airlines acted in really stupid ways that seem designed to piss passengers off.
Imagine you're leaving the hellish commuter landscape that is JFK International Airport. After paying for an expensive Uber or cab ride, after navigating your way through the monstrous airport that is constantly under construction, going through security, taking off your shoes and belt and watch and putting them back on and waiting to board your flight and finally getting on and taking off, you hear an announcement that you're going to have to turn around halfway and go back to JFK.
France is only hours within reach, but your captain is telling you that you're not going to Nice. Your plans of visiting Paris or driving through a charming countryside in a small red classic Peugeot have been squashed. And the reason?
A broken toilet.
All of the details surrounding the story haven't been revealed, but Bravo TV host Andy Cohen did offer up some insight on his Instagram stories that pretty much confirm the pettiness of what caused the ire of everyone on board. A clogged or broken toilet sent the whole flight back to JFK.
"We were an hour outside of Europe, somebody pooped or put something down the toilet that didn't go, broke the toilets. Guess where we are? Back at JFK," Cohen wrote.
It's unclear as to whether one, two, or more toilets were broken on the flight, but we do have other facts available to us: the type of plane that they were on. It was a Boeing 767, which has six toilets.
Now, I can understand if one toilet was broken — heck, maybe even two — if you had passengers who both ate some terrible and overpriced airline food before getting on their flight. But all six? Come on, that'd only happen if someone intentionally went throughout the flight to break all the toilets.
Apparently, the plane had to fly back to JFK because it was easier to fix the toilets in New York than in France. I know that there's a mean stereotype about the French being stinky, but I'm pretty sure someone in the country knows how to fix a toilet. The toilet was actually first commercially manufactured in Europe thanks to Thomas Crapper, so if anything, there's more commode-fixing heritage at the flight's destination than at its origin.
And although the simultaneous, six-toilet-breakdown scenario seems unlikely, according to this Inc. article, that was precisely the case. Which makes you wonder about the nature of the airplane toilet system: Do they all share the same toilet-connected grid?
Maybe all their pipes connect to the same output area, which was malfunctioning and causing all of the toilets to back up? Sure, it would have made for a gross flight, but, if you were so close to Europe, why not just land there?
Unless it was going to cost an arm and a leg to get the issue repaired in another country, and Delta would rather screw their customers over than get stiffed with the bill of working with a "foreign" repair service...
As annoying as the entire process was, at least passengers could console themselves with the fact that after they landed back in JFK, they could use the bathroom and whatever comps Delta offered them, and they'd be back in the air in "no time."
However, there was no such luck. Passengers complained about the long wait time it took for them to get back in the air. Imagine being so close to your destination, only to be flown back to the airport and forced to wait another 10 hours to get back in the air?
As you can imagine, people weren't happy. Not just with Delta's cancellation of the flight, but with the airline's lack of interest in trying to make things right after the fact.
As far as plane-pooping stories go, this Delta one isn't even the worst. John LeFevre's tale of having to crap on a private jet is one of the most harrowing pieces of non-fiction I've ever read.
The level of humiliation and embarrassment he suffers after discovering he needs to poop in an "emergency toilet" on a private jet with a high-profile clientele, with nothing but a small privacy curtain to separate him from them, is the stuff of cringe legends.
Just over halfway through the flight, all the coffee in my stomach feels like it's percolating its way down into my lower intestine. I hunker down and try and focus on other things. What feels like an hour, but probably isn't more than twenty minutes, passes. We then enter what turns out to be pretty violent turbulence. With each bounce, I have to fight my body, trying not to sh-t my pants. "Thirty minutes to landing, maybe forty five" I try and tell myself, each jostle a gamble I can't afford to lose. I signal to [the flight attendant] and she heads toward me.
"Excuse me, where is the bathroom, because I don't see a door?" I ask while still devoting considerable energy to fighting off what starts to feel like someone shook a seltzer bottle and shoved it up my a--. She looks at me, bemused, and says, "Well, we don't really have one per se." She continues, "Technically, we have one, but it's really just for emergencies. Don't worry, we're landing shortly anyway."
"I'm pretty sure this qualifies as an emergency," I manage to mutter through my grimace. I can see the fear in her face as she points nervously to the back seat. The turbulence outside is matched only by the cyclone that is ravaging my bowels. She points to the back of the plane and says, "There. The toilet is there." For a brief instant, relief passes over my face. She continues, "If you pull away the leather cushion from that seat, it's under there. There's a small privacy screen that pulls up around it, but that's it." At this point, I was committed. She had just lit the dynamite and the mine shaft was set to blow.
I turn to look where she is pointing and I get the urge to cry. I do cry, but my face is so tightly clenched it makes no difference. The "toilet" seat is occupied by the CFO, i.e. our f--king client. Our f--king female f--king client!
"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." My apologies do nothing to drown out the heinous noises that seem to carry on and reverberate throughout the small cabin indefinitely. If that's not bad enough, I have one more major problem. The privacy screen stops right around shoulder level. I am sitting there, a disembodied head, in the back of the plane, on a bucking bronco for a toilet, all while looking my colleagues, competitors, and clients directly in the eyes. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" briefly comes to mind.
I literally could reach out with my left hand and rest it on the shoulder of the person adjacent to me. It was virtually impossible for him, or any of the others, and by others I mean high profile business partners and clients, to avert their eyes. They squirm and try not to look, inclined to do their best to carry on and pretend as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening, that they weren't sharing a stall with some guy crapping his intestines out. Releasing smelly, sweaty, shame at 100 feet per second.
"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry" is all the ashamed disembodied head can say…over and over again. Not that it mattered.
Update: Inc actually followed up with one of the pilots from the flight to find out what exactly happened. It was, indeed, a multiple toilet failure that occurred on board. All of the poopers actually broke at the same time. Well, almost the same time.
It all started with one rogue toilet that decided to go on the fritz. No problem, there were 5 more of the flight. However, the 767 is a huge airplane, and you never want to have a bathroom out of order, air travel is stressful enough. So the flight attendants attempted to reset the toilets after a passenger stuffed something in one of the toilets that shouldn't have been there. God knows what it could've been.
However, upon resetting the circuit breakers for the toilets while up in the air, instead of fixing the one that was broken, all of the lavatories on the right side of the plane stopped functioning. And you're only allowed a finite number of resets. They communicated with nearby airports to try and find out what their best options for fixing the issue were, but things were complicated due to contract issues and where they could find Delta maintenance to fix the toilets on the aircraft.
"...we'd have had to get contract maintenance and by the time they'd arrived and tried to fix things, the crew would have been out of hours. Then they'd have had to fly a new crew out. The passengers could have been there for days," the pilot said.
The closest place they could land at was Dublin, but that was 3 and a half hours away. Three and a half hours without a working toilet meant passengers would've been pooping and peeing in their pants:
"Three and a half hours without a working toilet? Can you imagine what that would have been like? There'd have been people going to the toilet in their seats. It happens, you know."
Remarkably, one of the flight attendants managed to get a toilet working by digging in and removing stuff the old fashioned way. However, they were only able to get it working once they decided to fly back. The pilot insists that the flight crew entertained every possible scenario and that flying back to JFK made the most sense, time-wise, for passengers.