But short of that kind of calamity, well, it was a pretty uncomfortable and potentially disgusting experience for passengers aboard American Airlines flight 663 from Phoenix to Hawaii last week.
It also was caused by something I don't think most passengers would have predicted, or that really, the airline could likely control. And as we learn more about American's response, well, it seems like the kind of thing that frankly you might wish a lot more airlines would do.
Here's the story, the response, and the 11 words you never want to hear yourself uttering to a flight attendant. (Namely: "What do you mean, 'I have to pee in a bag?'")
The only option: bottles and bags
Last Friday, an American Airlines 757 was over the Pacific Ocean en route to Hawaii, when all three of the bathrooms reportedly became disabled. That meant that 187 passengers and six crew members were left with some unappealing options for when nature called.
As an American Airlines flight attendant explained in comments that were caught on video (embedded below), men could use a bottle; women could use a bag.
"I know, it's horrible," the flight attendant tells a passenger in the video. Here's how American Airlines explained it all to me in an email:
On Aug. 31, American Airlines flight 663 from Phoenix to Kona experienced an issue with the lavatories during its journey to Hawaii. It was later discovered that a diaper has been flushed down one of the toilets, which also caused a malfunction.
We are very sorry for the trouble this caused the 187 passengers on flight 663. Our customer relations team will be reaching out to all of the passengers on this flight to extend our apologies.
At American, lavatories must be working properly prior to departure. If an American flight is in the air, and all lavatories become inoperative, the flight will divert to the nearest suitable airport in order for maintenance to rectify the situation.
Due to the location of the aircraft, the flight continued to its intended destination. The issue was subsequently rectified upon arrival in Kona, and our flight returned to Phoenix as scheduled.
The situation developed about two hours east of Hawaii, which meant that turning around or diverting to another destination would have been an even longer trip.
30,000 AAdvantage miles
The situation really does seem crazy. Could a single diaper really disable all three bathrooms? Apparently.
The passenger who recorded the flight attendant video told KPNX television:
You could see the passengers looking at each other in disbelief. There was one lady who, unfortunately, she had a toddler that needed to use the restroom, and same thing. She was told she had to use a bag.
She opened the door to the toilet, and the grimace on her face... you could tell she was going to get sick to her stomach because of the sight and the smell.
Yeah, the whole things sounds horrible. And the woman who recorded the video and told KPNX about it, says she rejected American's offer of compensation: 17,500 miles and $240 in vouchers.
But it seems that American has upped its offer--and frankly, I don't know what more they could do in this situation: 30,000 AAdvantage miles, they told me, for every person on the plane.
That should be enough for a flight anywhere in the continental United States, or even another flight to Hawaii, if you can happen to time it right. (American's awards chart is here.)
Here's the passenger video showing just how awkward this was in the air.