What happens when you Flush a Plane Loo?

Is the contents of an aeroplane toilet jettisoned during a flight? The latest in our Travel Truths series reveals all

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Unless you’ve flown first class, or in a private jet, aircraft loos are windowless, cramped affairs that usually reek of cheap sanitizer. But they have come a long way.

An excellent article on the website Aviation Global News charts the history of the plane lavatory, and asks why the smallest room in the sky – “an unheralded hero of aircraft safety,” no less – rarely gets the coverage it deserves.

The first flight (made by Orville Wright, although some conspiracy theorists think otherwise – more on that here), it explains, lasted just 12 seconds – “hardly long enough to get worked up from a bladder perspective, although one may surmise that a number two might have been on his mind”.

But before long, planes were flying for much longer. “It is obvious that someone, somewhere, was the first person to relieve themselves in an aircraft. Who was this urinary pioneer? — history does not record,” laments the blog. “It is a reasonable presumption that bottles, tubes and buckets were involved, but that information, too, is lost to time. Why are there so few facts recorded about early aircraft toilets? Most likely it was the squeamishness of the age.”

Some interesting facts have been recorded, however. Second World War pilots, for example, couldn’t stand the “slop bucket” loos – or “Elsans” – found on board Lancaster bombers. They often overflowed in turbulent conditions, or were tricky to use.

One unidentified airman described his hatred for the contraptions thusly: “While we were flying in rough air, this devil’s convenience often shared its contents with the floor of the aircraft, the walls, the ceiling, and sometimes a bit remained in the container itself.

“It doesn’t take much imagination to picture what it was like trying to combat fear and airsickness while struggling to remove enough gear in cramped quarters and at the same time trying to use the bloody Elsan… This loathsome creation invariably overflowed on long trips and in turbulence was always prone to bathe the nether regions of the user. It was one of the true reminders to me that war is hell.” Tell us what you really think.

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