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Reports From the Forum

The Misery of Flying With Bathroom Issues

The Misery of Flying With Bathroom Issues
Jeff Edwards

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A recent post on FlyerTalk about the serious challenges of flying to a destination when you have a medical condition that results in anxiety about bathroom access shed light on a problem that millions of people deal with every day. The result was a debate about the responsibilities of airlines, crew members and air travelers when a flyer has a medical condition that makes a visit to the lavatory an absolute emergency.

FlyerTalk member navylad should perhaps be applauded for setting aside pride to tell a highly personal tale of humiliation at 40,000 feet. Because of his bravery in the face of unspeakable embarrassment, many of us have found a new appreciation for the hidden disabilities of some of our fellow passengers, and at the same time, he may have sparked an interesting discussion about the obligations of the airline versus the responsibility of the passenger when a flyer requires special accommodation.

In the case of this now-famous FlyerTalker, his preferred decision was to cancel travel plans after recently-diagnosed medical conditions made frequent visits to the toilet absolutely necessary. Navylad explains, however, that a call to British Airways convinced him that the airline and crew members stood ready, willing and able to help make his flight from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Rio de Janeiro–Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport (GIG) trouble-free.

Spoiler alert: They were neither ready, willing nor able.

To make matters worse, a special “sunflower lanyard” that was provided as a signal to cabin crew members that the passenger has a hidden disability proved less than helpful. In the end, navylad’s initial inclination to cancel the flight may have worked out much better than trusting the airline’s promises.

“Unfortunately, about 90 minutes into the flight, I needed to use the facilities at the rush, not wishing to cause too much of a fuss, I initially proceeded aft to the WT toilets, but it was just after the initial food Service and the queue was 8 deep, and despite having a sunflower lanyard, no CC were available to assist (they were in the galley which was not easy to get to),” the mortified flyer recounted. “In desperation, I went to use the CW toilet with the reassurance I had my sunflower lanyard given to me by BA and the CC would know. Sadly I was mistaken, I got shouted at as soon as I stepped through the curtain by a member of CC telling me to go use the economy toilet. Twice I tried to explain to him in a calm manner and two further times he shouted at me to go and use the economy toilet until I eventually had to raise my voice and effectively tell the whole cabin of my condition. Whilst he then stepped aside in order to allow me to use the toilet, albeit without acknowledgement, it was then too late, and I had an accident.”

The frequent flyer involved says he shared this highly personal story in the hope of receiving “constructive thoughts” from the FlyerTalk community as well as helping prevent others from finding themselves in similar situations. Having already been let down by BA’s disability accessibility team, navylad also admitted to creating the thread to help find a strategy to keep from finding himself in a similar situation on the return flight home.

While British Airways is said to have apologized and offered an upgrade for the passenger’s return trip, the dispirited flyer is left wondering if this is enough compensation from “an organization that has breached the Equalities Act.” After all, this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill customer service complaint.

“Extremely distressed by the situation, I ended up going to the back of the plane and breaking down in tears by the aft door, eventually being consoled by one to the WT CC, who in fairness apologized for what happened and said he would ‘have a word,’” the FlyerTalker confessed. “Sadly I had the remainder 10 hours of the flight in soiled clothes.”

Some of the responses were decidedly less than sympathetic. One post suggested that anyone with bladder or bowel control issues should refrain entirely from air travel. “If a wheelchair bound person found themselves in the situation of having an immediate dose of the s—- which caused them to require immediate access to the bathroom then yes, they should also not travel,” one especially heartless poster suggested when challenged.

Other more helpful members of the FlyerTalk community shared stories of their own struggles with medical issues causing incontinence and bowel control issues. Several FlyerTalkers were even able to offer strategies to help make long flights less stressful, including carrying a “Just Can’t Wait Card” to quickly and conveniently inform cabin crew members and fellow passengers should an urgent need to visit the facilities arise.

In the end, navylad opted to take the best advice FlyerTalk had to offer. Rather than relying on a sunflower lanyard and a Just Can’t Wait Card, he vowed to personally speak with gate agents and cabin members immediately before the return flight and perhaps equally as important, make absolutely sure he is carrying a spare outfit.

Is British Airways in desperate need of potty training? Should they be the ones embarrassed by this passenger’s “accident” or should those with hidden medical issues such as bladder or bowel control issues just stay home? Just imagine the relief of sharing your opinion in the British Airways Executive Club forum.

[Featured Image: Shutterstock]

View Comments (13)


  1. jtrsss524

    September 10, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    This was a very good and needed account of both those with visible needs and those with hidden ones. While I am fortunate not to have a situation that is like this – I feel for people who are. I agree that a conversation should happen with the lead member of the CC and have a plan to go to the restroom before “peak” going time for others or themselves. Prior to turning the seat belt sign off – someone from the CC can simply go directly to the passenger and offer an early escape from the seat belt to go to the rest room. It would not take much and in today’s world of “accommodation”, it is the least an airline can do.

  2. Gynob001

    September 10, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    My late wife, after colon cancer surgery had to use the toilet dozens of times a day. She flew all over the world on multiple airlines. She worked until one month before her death. Never had a toilet availability issue. Airlines, local businesses, and others were more than accommodating and always welcomed her and cheered her.

  3. kimikoftokyo


    September 11, 2019 at 4:28 am

    I automatically by default bring a carry on bag with a change of leggings and such because you never know. I’m
    Glad a positive solution was found in this situation. Truth of the matter is the more complaints an airline hear the more money they will lose. We all can learn from this situation from our fellow flyer ,this is a case of simple human error of either not caring or being on the same page is the fault and they were wrong. Speaking and reminding them will have them annoyed but they will remember then. They could of done better. An upgrade doesn’t erase embarrassment.

  4. googs185

    September 11, 2019 at 6:20 am

    I can’t believe people say that people with a bowel or bladder condition should avoid air travel entirely. What if this man was going home to his mother’s funeral or his sister’s wedding. What if it wasn’t a “leisure trip”? Unbelievable.

  5. MitchR

    September 11, 2019 at 6:26 am

    I worked at a large theme park in the ’70’s. They would bring in a person from American Airlines to speak to us about customer service and showing a caring attitude. This would never happen today.

  6. awayIgo

    September 11, 2019 at 11:43 am

    My problems may not be as severe, but as people age they developed weak bladders and the need to urinate more quickly. Maybe some of the people on line had this! Should they move backwards in line. Carrying a change of clothes is automatic. There are also pads made to contain accidents.

  7. alangore


    September 11, 2019 at 8:44 pm

    Navylad’s real problem was booking on British. BA can be relied on to forget about any carefully prearranged special request, in this case its own sunflower lanyards.

  8. KenTarmac

    September 12, 2019 at 11:42 am

    Wear an adult diaper. Don’t expect any sympathy from the Airline. Hope for the best, be prepared for the worst.

  9. formeraa

    September 12, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    @KenTarmac — That is an excellent idea — Depends actually work well. And bring a couple extra in your carryon bag as well as a change of clothes.

  10. ph-ndr

    September 12, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    I’ve had two similar trips, both were cases of being temporarily disabled (first one a well developed case of giardia, second a high speed development based on less than sanitary lounge food). In both cases I let the crew know briefly during boarding that things might happen and it might happen suddenly. This is always the best way if you need to rely on crew already being clued up later during the flight to avoid delays and problems.

    In the case of giardia I managed to clam up and not have to deal with anything until I had completed NBO-ZRH-xxx and arrived at my destination. That first restroom I found after deplaning was an experience best kept to the darkest corners of Reddit for description.

  11. SirenaCansone

    September 14, 2019 at 3:06 pm

    Several years ago I went on a group tour in which one woman announced that she had a medical issue and stated that if she was not able to get to a bathroom on time she would likely have an accident. I admired her bravery because I was always living in fear that my (unannounced) IBS would one day reveal itself in the worst way. I fly rather frequently and had ONE accident in a plane due to a long line. Fortunately, I was prepared with extra clothing and cleansing products but it took me close to a half an hour to recuperate in the lavatory. It would be wonderful if gastroenterologists could give out Just Can’t Wait cards to patients the same way handicapped stickers are given out. What a lifesaver that would be! Barring that, I have decided that I will try to be braver next time and announce my own medical condition if I have to stand in a long queue.

  12. philipperv

    September 14, 2019 at 9:49 pm

    Having been born with IBS I am used to popping immodium before traveling but if the OP has a condition that can’t be relieved with medication then they must take precautions if they decide to travel like wearing adult diapers. Relying on the airline to give them preferential treatment is a really bad plan.

  13. marjiep

    September 17, 2019 at 10:46 am

    Recommend reading : BEYOND EMBARRASSMENT : RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE WITH NEUROGENIC BLADDER AND BOWEL by JoAnne Lake and Julia Parker for anyone with incontinence, Chron’s , Overactive Bladder, etc. It addresses very practical issues (JoAnne) , and also resources, medical insights(Julia). I’d love to place it in every Doc’s office (and have them read it too!) As to the PAX: informing staff is always the best. AND I wish there was a “Can’t Wait” card that was small, could be carried in wallet, signed by your Doc.. A friend carried a letter from a doc for those situations where ‘only employees’ or ‘no bathroom without buying/ordering’ . I think I would have had a small card made and laminated. I have always, always found great compassion (on a plane, at a huge car show, from senior citizens, when I tell anyone I have OAB. And yes,use pads and Depends/Poise. In my ‘to go’ bag that I carry with me, I include a BIG t shirt, 2 pads, and sanitizer. They have multi-uses, not just for “accidents” (sanitizer all round when I board. T-shirt for those times I’m stuck in hotel and my luggage has flown on without me! ). I hope that more will feel they can readily disclose to staff, whether airport, train, whatever that they will need ready access to a lavatory, without embarrassment. .

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