That Scary Airplane Potty

We all have phobias. Some are quite common such as the fear of flying (aviophobia) or the fear of heights (acrophobia) or the fear of public speaking (glossophobia). These are all understandable terrors. Then there are other phobias such as the fear of the Pope (papaphobia), the fear of crossing the street (dromophobia) and the fear of the bogeyman (bogyphobia) which are, in my opinion, just plain silly. But all of these phobias, along with hundreds of others, are actually recognized by the scientific community.

Scary Ice Cream

Fear of ice cream or Iscreamphobia is also very real.

I suffer from a fear of airplane lavatories which is not yet recognized as a phobia but should be. Airplane potties, along with those on the ground, are euphemistically called restrooms or bathrooms. Both of these terms are misnomers when referring to those on a plane. When I’m flying I don’t use them to bathe or to rest. I use them to pee or to get a brief respite from the little brat who is sitting behind me and kicking my chair.

I know that I am not alone in my angst regarding these flying lavatories. I have named this phobia aero-loo-a-phobia. These little rooms are terribly frightening. First, they are filled with germs. I wonder how many people really wash their hands after using the airplane toilet. I assume all women do and everyone in business class. But what about the others in economy class? In the terminal bathroom everyone washes because these are crowded places where people will see whether or not you practiced good hygiene. So you wash your hands to avoid being judged. But in the plane lavatory you are alone. Who would know? My guess is that plenty of folks don’t properly wash, so germs are a real concern there.

Then there is the worry that you will encounter turbulence and the seat belt sign will be illuminated while you are in the john. What should you do? If you return to your seat before you are done there is no way of knowing when you will be allowed to return. You could be crossing your legs for an hour. But if you stay, are you endangering yourself by not being strapped in? Even if you are sitting on the can there is no seat belt on what is arguably the most vulnerable seat on the plane. And if you stay to finish your business you just know that the turbulence will knock over your double scotch that is sitting unprotected on your tray table. Good luck getting another from the flight attendant. Even if he/she does give you another you are going to have to endure that look of judgement on his/her face. Hey, it’s not like I’m flying the damn plane.

plane toilet

Pilots have ways to cope.

There is also the dread that when you have finished, the latch on the door won’t work and you will be locked in. That happened to someone on a flight I was on. How humiliating. I also worry that that could happen to the pilot. I know there is always a co-pilot. I always check when I board just to make sure. The co-pilot could fly the plane, however that’s like your favorite football team having to use its back-up quarterback. Your chances of winning the game or, in this case, not crashing, are diminished.

I also worry about flushing the toilet on a plane. Where does it go? Could it leak? What if it was clogged and began to overflow? I have never seen a plunger on an airplane. Could my pressing the flush button cause a chain of events that would result in the plane falling from the sky? I’m often tempted to not flush, but in 2012 a passenger on a Virgin America flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco was arrested for not flushing the aircraft toilet properly. I don’t know what “properly” means. You just press the button. I suspect that he didn’t flush at all and perhaps he did some other bad shit too. So now, to avoid prosecution, I always flush and so far I haven’t brought down any planes (this is not to say that I didn’t flush before the incident).

I don’t just have concerns about me (and the pilot) using the toilet while in flight. I worry about other passengers using it as well. Some people just take way too long which makes me worry about what exactly they are doing in there. Hopefully they aren’t attempting to light a shoe bomb or to flush something down the loo that they shouldn’t. But you never know.

Lastly, there is the fear that if you flush the toilet while sitting on it you will get sucked out of the plane. That hasn’t happened yet but it does makes you think. Fortunately the myth that you will get stuck to the loo if you flush while sitting on it was debunked by the guys on the Mythbusters TV show.

Plane toilet seat

The 2001 A Space Odyssey doesn’t help.

So, I think you can understand the fears that airplane lavatories cause me and so many other passengers. I hope that the psychiatric community will begin to acknowledge this very real phobia. Scientists and doctors need to study this so that they can begin to offer hope to those of us suffering from this terrible affliction.

John Wade, a frequent contributor to Unhinged Magazine, is a retired Chief Financial Officer who lives in Wildwood, Missouri.

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published with permission of the author