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Alternative Uses for Barf Bags

Cindy Loose

Are there circumstances dire enough to justify discreet but public urination in the air?

That is the question raised by a report in the Salt Lake Tribune. The pilot of a SkyWest Airlines flight had declared the restroom off-limits on a flight from Boise to Salt Lake City because a light wasn't working. Although other passengers didn't notice the passenger doing anything amiss at his seat, the flight attendant had suspicions, and asked the man about it. Caught holding a full barf bag, he confessed.

The passenger said he'd had two "really big beers" and felt he had no choice. The flight attendent tattled to the captain, who called police, who met him on the ground, then questioned and released him. Apparently the airline reconsidered: It's sent him a letter of apology and a free flight voucher.

What do you think -- was the passenger justified?

By Cindy Loose |  March 26, 2007; 9:50 AM ET  | Category:  Cindy Loose , The Odd File
Previous: Missing Your Liquids? | Next: Polite to a Fault

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SO disgusting! I can't believe that no one else noticed him doing this!

Posted by: KS | March 26, 2007 10:07 AM

What did they want the poor guy to do? Was he supposed to pee in his pants while sitting there. Seems to me he did them a favor by not ruining their seat if they weren't going to let him use the lavatory.

Airlines suck.

Posted by: Glenn | March 26, 2007 10:18 AM

I feel bad for the guy and I don't blame him, but the flight attendent should of let him use the bathroom at least.

Posted by: Sara | March 26, 2007 10:23 AM

The only reason that this is even being debated is because it was a healthy man. What if it was an ill person, or a pregnant female (anyone who has ever been around a pregnant female knows damn well never to get between them and the restroom...)? That would have seen lawsuits against the airline, and not questions about the propriety of the person's actions!

Posted by: Castor | March 26, 2007 10:27 AM

I'm with the pee-er. When you've got to go, you've got to go. Good thinking to use the barf bag.

Posted by: LeszX | March 26, 2007 10:34 AM

Two comments:
1. Considering what else a distressed passenger in need of a facility might have deposited in a barf bag, the man in question seems to me to be the acme of discretion. 2. I am glad I was not on a flight captained by the knee-jerk type who called the cops. God only knows what he/she might've done had there been a real problem in the air.

Posted by: tom | March 26, 2007 10:35 AM

It's bad enough when you have to navigate super crowded seating and crowded aisles just to get to the lav...and wait. That's not the problem. The problem seems to be a greater preponderance of airline personnel with authoritarian attitudes meant to control 'the herd'. They call us "pax". Jet Blue 'imprisoned' hundreds recently. Airliners 'forced down' by idiotic exchanges between passengers and their jailers... Let's grow up, people.

Posted by: Bob in NY | March 26, 2007 10:35 AM

I wouldn't think a barf bag would be big enough to hold the volume of urine generated by two beers...

Posted by: Anonymous | March 26, 2007 10:38 AM

I've been urinating in barf bags for years. The trick is to tell the flight attendant that the bag is full of vomit, not urine. That way they'll toss the bag out for you, bring you another, and often bring you a free snack or soda to help calm your stomach. I wonder if this guy used the old blanket on your lap trick.

Posted by: Ricky | March 26, 2007 10:47 AM

of course he was justified. the airline, the captain, and the stew are living in a dream world.

Posted by: kennytal | March 26, 2007 10:56 AM

What else was he suppose to do?

Posted by: O | March 26, 2007 11:10 AM

Hey, when you gotta go you gotta go.

For years women (I'm not one of them, nor have I seen this) have been putting their heads down and using men's rooms in public facilities when the lines for the women's restrooms were too long and nature was not only calling, it was yelling.

Posted by: Gary | March 26, 2007 11:13 AM

I use barf bags to write letters on. They fit in standard envelopes and can hold things like pictures, baseball cards and (if not using a standard envelope) jelly beans. Amazing how many people love getting letters written on barf bags. My friend in Germany always puts out my latest letter as a conversation piece at her parties. I kid you not.

I try to only use barf bags that have not been peed or barfed in. It's a little idiosyncrasy of mine.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 26, 2007 12:45 PM

he should have sh1t in the bag and given it to the captain as a statement of what he thinks about the airline's treatment of its passengers. -- faye kane

Posted by: faye kane | March 26, 2007 1:05 PM

In addition to barf bags, airlines should now issue adult diapers. If they are good enough for space travel, they should be good enough for air travel.

Posted by: Tired Traveler | March 26, 2007 1:10 PM

For want of a lightbulb, a tempest in a teapot was created when a man in dire need to urinate used a barf bag. ^#%$@(#($ airlines. A lightbulb? Such a cornerstone to aerodynamic lift capability and aviation safety. The stewardess, or maybe it was a steward, would not give him a FLASHLIGHT, that requires creative thouht. They obviously did not have any facility for creative thought.
And the cockpit crew? What if there had been a real emergency on this plane? By their actions to the bag peeing incident, I figure they would have just all jumped up and run down the aisle of the plane screaming, Oh God, save me...we are going to crash!

When you have to pee you pee. The airlines should have grounded the plane if a burned out lightbulb was going to cause such a problem. Wait until they have a real a #2 in the hot towel basket.

Posted by: Big Sam | March 26, 2007 1:18 PM

I think I'd sue the airline for compensation and to have both the pilot and the flight attendant FIRED. Either that or I would piss on the voucher and send it back to the president of the airline.

Posted by: Mister Methane | March 26, 2007 1:28 PM

Geez...the light was out in the potty! I can't tell you how many times I'vr gone to the bathroom with the lights off!

Posted by: Wizzer | March 26, 2007 1:46 PM

I'm with Ricky, although I've never used a barf bag. I usually use a litre bottle, but the problem is that you still have to aim. And yes, the blanket is a must. From now on I'll use the bag because I like the idea of extra snacks and the extra aiming room. Thanks Ricky.

Posted by: skoorb | March 26, 2007 1:55 PM

If no one even noticed, then the attendant should have ignored it too.

To KS: If you think urinating in a bag is bad, then I wish you could tell you the things I have witnessed two people doing under blankets. But the Post would probably delete the entry.

All I can say is wash your hands frequently. Carry Purell everywhere.

Posted by: Frequent Flyer | March 26, 2007 2:01 PM

While SkyWest did blow it, both in their in-flight and post-flight reaction (nature's call is nature's call after all, and the bathrooms on a CRJ 100 are hardly palatial - I think even in the dark you could probably figure out where to sit/aim), it was only a 67-minute flight.

The guy went twice before takeoff (once in the airport, once on the plane before takeoff, apparently delaying the takeoff). AND he drank a soda on the plane, after the flight staff had announced the lavatory was now out of order.

He could be a little accountable, please. Was it completely necessary to drink that much in so short a time? I have a medical condition where I have to stay pretty hydrated, so I generally have to think ahead when I fly about when and how much I'm drinking.

But this has never included drinking 32 oz. of liquid (alcoholic or not) the hour before I board the plane (I'm estimating a 16 oz "really large beer", since a standard bottle is 12 oz) and then another 8-12 oz of caffeinated liquid AFTER I board and the attendants have told me the lavatory is out of order.

Also, on so short a flight, how was this much different than the idiotic 30 minute rule for DCA? I've seen people turned back from the lavatory line when that 30 minute rule hits and somehow they manage to not soil an air sickness bag.

Again - SkyWest blew it. But a little of the blame should land on Mr. Whipple.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | March 26, 2007 2:17 PM

I know it is frowned upon, and perhaps you might even get scolded if you were to do it, but have you thought of hitting that flight-attendant-call-button and asking him or her for permission to go the to lav or for some alternate advice before peeing in a bag? C'mon . . .

Posted by: Shoshie | March 26, 2007 2:18 PM

He should have used the rest room on the plane no matter what the flight attendant said. If he had told the attendent it was an emergency he or she would have allowed it.
Peeing in the barf bag has got to be disgusting for your seat mate!

Posted by: Southern Girl | March 26, 2007 2:29 PM

Chasmosaur is obviously not a middle-aged male with an enlarged prostate, else he/she would have writtne differently. A person with an enlarged prostate often gets little warning, the warning is usually urgent, and the ability to hold one's urine is compromised.

In a larger sense, shouldn't passengers expect a working, available loo as part of the minimal level of service on a flight?

Posted by: Mister Methane | March 26, 2007 2:47 PM

So, no water, and no peeing? I love to fly!!!! When do the airlines go out of business because they wont' let us, say, oh, breathe? It's a bodily function that cannot wait, will not go away, and if you wait long enough, you will be peeing where you are, no matter what.

These airline employees seem to be getting a giant superiority complex. They need help. I would surely have used the barf bag - but I would have told them what I was going to do, to let them have an option of allowing me to use the actual bathroom, instead of concocting my own out of a barf-bag. Kudos to the peeer.

Posted by: seriously? | March 26, 2007 2:57 PM

Hilarious and revolting at the same time. I think he should have probably asked to use the restroom and if they didnt allow that, then threaten to use the barf bag. But i think at least a fair warning should have been in effect.

Posted by: dolly4 | March 26, 2007 2:57 PM

I wonder who got left holding the bag?

Posted by: H De Jesus | March 26, 2007 3:14 PM

Crew should have some discretion as to when rules should be flexible. I'd be curious to hear this from the pilots perspective. On the other hand, I've met many an arrogant SOB pilot and wouldn't want to give him a speck of limelight (or toilet light).

Suspension for silliness, to the captain and to the flight attendant.

pfft. A voucher on SkyWest? OOOOOOO. Go crazy Mr. Potty bag! Where are ya gonna go? Rapid City? Fresno? Pasco? El Paso?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 26, 2007 3:18 PM

Pee'ers of the world unite! They shouldve been glad he didnt have to do #2!

Posted by: Kamantha | March 26, 2007 3:33 PM

To Mister Methane.

Not a middle aged man with a prostate problem.

I am a late 30-something woman who has to drink at least 64 ounces a day (I can't keep up anymore, does late 30's make me middle aged?). I can assure you I go just as frequently/spontaneously/urgently as my father-in-law with the prostate problem. It's a running joke between us on who has to go first on a road trip or during a movie or whatever...

I do personally hope the flight attendant gets stuck on a cross-country plane without toilets without so much as a barf bag to relieve herself in. I have had to hold 40 ounces before (for an ultrasound) - being denied only makes the situation feel exponentially worse.

But I think in this situation, Mr. Whipple could have used his head a little bit better (pun sort-of intended...) I don't think any thinking person's response to being told the lavatory was out of order would be to drink a soda on top of his professed "really large beers". Especially if he did happen to have a prostate problem!

Posted by: Chasmosaur | March 26, 2007 3:39 PM

If you come medicaly equipped with your own Foley catheter and colostomy bag will they give you a free upgrade you to first glass?

Posted by: Ed Harris | March 26, 2007 3:47 PM

I don't blame him. Sounds like he tried to be discreet. What did the airline expect passengers to do if they take away the use of the lavatory ??

Posted by: NancyG | March 26, 2007 3:48 PM

Pee is more sanitary than barf. What's the big deal? ::gasp:: He had to expose his penis?!?! RUN FOR THE HILLS! Seriously, though, aren't we blowing this a little out of proportion? Guy could've used more discretion, airline could've used more common sense.

That said, I've been known to go without liquids for an hour before a red-eye or cross-country, because I always choose a window seat and I hate crawling over strangers.

Posted by: Mona | March 26, 2007 4:02 PM

What were the gentleman's other choices? Perhaps the Coffee Pot?

Posted by: Craig | March 26, 2007 4:09 PM

Maybe that's the next thing you'll have to buy a la carte from the airlines -- lavatory vouchers. $5 each at time of purchase or $10 on the actual flight.

I should be quite now, before the airlines start getting ideas...

Posted by: Go Georgetown!! | March 26, 2007 4:12 PM

Be glad it was urine, and not blood. Nothing like telling a woman in full flow that she can't change her sanitary supplies en route. Airlines need to be more realistic - and more informative. I had to get off a plane once to double my padding when they changed us to a plane without a loo, and they had to wait for me. They should have told us in the waiting area. "Only an hour flight" means different things at different times.

Posted by: Yeah, right | March 26, 2007 4:35 PM

Those astronaut diapers would have come in handy.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 26, 2007 4:49 PM

I am not sure why Shoshie thinks the gentleman didn't ask the flight attendant for permission. He asked over and over and over. Exactly how many times would shoshie have him ask?

Very detailed account here:

Posted by: Leila | March 26, 2007 5:20 PM

They could not have changed the light bulb. Seriously, I just do not understand why airlines do this to their paying customers. My husband has a fairly serious GI condition and was on a flight where no one was allowed to use the bathroom. If he had known hours in advance he would not have eaten dinner at the airport but he was not told until directly before boarding. He tried to use the restroom before the flight but his body did not cooperate.

He was in agony for well over an hour from the time his body decided he had to go until the plane circled the airport, landed, found a gate and finally allowed the passangers off. A bathroom needs to be provided. People need them. And this excuse it was a 63 minute flight is nonsense. It is how long one is actually on the plane that matters. Not the air time.

Posted by: Tessa | March 26, 2007 5:21 PM

It's about time the passengers started paying back the airlines for being treated like #2. They only got a bag of #1, but they deserve to get suitcases full of #2!

The feds should do inspections of aircraft and use the rule that assumes if they have something little like a light bulb out in the cabin or bathrooms, that there may be something burnt out that can impact true safety. Ground the plane and inspect it top to bottom. It would force the airlines to do better maintenance. Most of the planes are flying accidents waiting to happen.

Posted by: I hate airlines | March 26, 2007 5:45 PM

Hmmm.... I would have had his clothes checked for trace amounts of sodium hypochlorite (bleach). My guess is that he was planning on using the sun's energy (through the window) to heat up the contents of the bag in an effort to distill the urine and extract urea nitrate. Utilizing the off-gassed water from the distillation process, re-condensed to liquid form of course, he could then have extracted the trace amounts of bleach from his clothes. Mixing these chemicals together he could very easily, given a substantial percussion source, created an explosion with enough intensity to frighten the person sitting next to him possibly resulting in the release of withheld urine in that person... WITHOUT a barf bag to contain it.

Posted by: Tom | March 26, 2007 5:55 PM

Air travel is an idea whose time has come -- and gone. When Internet bandwidth gets just a little bit better, business air travel by actual people will be replaced by holograms of virtual people getting squirted through modems and wires and microwave transmission hardware. Safer, uses less energy, and does not put you at the mercy of doodooheads like the crew on this flight. Airlines will then have to rely on vacationers, who are even less likely to put up with this kind of harassing treatment.

Posted by: oldhonky | March 26, 2007 7:25 PM

Only one restroom on the plane? Must have been a puddle jumper (no pun intended). If there were NO restrooms available, no one else had a problem?? If this passenger just did not want to go to the available restroom, the situation is different. Two very big beers on a plane?? Must have had those in the airport before departure. Maybe his judgement was a tad impaired?

Posted by: Steve | March 27, 2007 12:15 PM

One poster mentioned how technology will make much of business travel unnecessary. I agree, and wonder just how prevalent air travel in general will be, say, thirty years from now.

Flying, thanks to energy costs, will only get more expensive in real dollar terms, not less, no matter how many super jumbo jets there are buzzing around. Profit margins, even for the low-cost outfits, are likely to be as thin now as they've always been. And, unless I'm mistaken, it will likely be just as unpleasant for the vast majority of the traveling public--maybe more so.

The typical rejoinder is, "But people are still going to travel--in fact, many more people are going to travel, as China, India, and other places grow more affluent, just as happened in the US. What's the alternative? Car? Rail? Bus? Ship? Once you factor in the costs, hassles, and time (especially time) of the others, air travel will still be the only game in town."

No, the real alternative is that people simply won't do as much long-distance travel, as incongruous as that may seem with our perception of progress. Air travel's big advantage--time--over the other modes of transit really only becomes decisive in the medium and long-range trip categories. Though I have no empirical evidence to back this up, my sense is that air travel's expense and unpleasantness are already eroding its time advantage, and thanks to the trends mentioned above, that's likely to continue. And as for new fliers from China and places like it, what these analysts fail to take into account is that the big increase in the number of air travelers took place following deregulation during a period of relatively inexpensive energy costs. Those conditions don't exist today, and won't for the forseeable future, putting a damper on the growth of potential passengers.

Posted by: Claudius | March 27, 2007 1:51 PM

Wait, he got a free flight??? Everyone pee!

Posted by: Chris | March 27, 2007 1:52 PM

I was across the aisle and a couple rows back from a guy who did this once. (with the seatbelt sign turned off and several operable restrooms)

He was in the window seat and when confronted said he didn't want to incovenience his two row-mates by making them get up to let him out. I can tell you they got up in a big darn hurry when it became clear what he was doing, so it didn't appear it would have been too big an inconvenience.

The flight attendant allowed the two row-mates to change seats, including moving a deadheading crew member to a jump seat.

We were all inconvenienced later, though, when we had to wait for the airport cops in Houston to escort him off the plane.

Posted by: Left of the Pyle | March 28, 2007 2:01 PM

With many years of the prostate condition called BPH, and now followed by prostate cancer treated with high-intensity radiation, I am seldom able to last much over an hour between needs to urinate -- and if I don'tget to relieve myself promptly, I csn't control the leakage, which is a grossly unpleasant inconvenience. So I say more power to our barf-bag hero, and my thanks for a useful suggestion of an alternate to wet pants.

Posted by: R.A.Frankel | March 28, 2007 4:21 PM

light isn't working in the loo -
hmmm, Mr. Pilot, what to do?
for the duration of the flight
make "do" with --- a flashlight!

Or are those now considered lethal weapons and can't be taken aboard or only used by authorized personnel? With an open door policy the flight attendant could have assisted as they might a physically handicapped person but then sensibilities would have had to be considered.

Oh the humanity of it all!

Posted by: David - California | March 28, 2007 5:16 PM

Mr. Whipple should have brought a pack of Charmin to "squeeze."

Posted by: BDK | March 28, 2007 5:29 PM

What was this man to do? If you gotta go, you gotta go! We don't know his age, (sometimes this can be a contributing factor), his general health situation, etc. Just give the guy a break - which obviously the authorities did!!!! I think that the attendants could have provided a flashlight for all to use in the bathroom -and had the gentleman just advised the attendants, might they have provided a blanket for him for privacy? - Let us be real here - we've all had some occasion wherein something akin to this has happened. Too many other real - serious - issues to be concerned about - (Sometimes I think that there is a "Check List" for use by the Crew/Attendants. If that list of possible situations does not contain a specific scenario, such as this instance, then they do not know how to :"Think out of the box".)
My pet peeves are: a passenger who shakes and/or combs their hair in the seat in front of or next to you - especially while you are eating - and the plastic food you are given in coach - and the passengers who INSIST on standing in the aisles to jam their bags in the overhead compartments, while blocking access to those passengers trying to get past, thus delaying take off - and then there are those passengers who KNOW IN ADVANCE that their seat assignments indicate that they are not seated adjacent to their traveling companions, but when they get on the plane they throw hissy fits and must inconvenience other passengers already seated, forcing others to relcate so they can be accommodated! If you fly frequently, you see it all - and now the definition of a successful flight has been reduced to just this: A successful flight is one wherein you take off, fly and then land - safely!! No matter that your luggage may NOT make it with you!!

Posted by: Beth | March 29, 2007 10:09 AM

The only times I ever wish I was a man is at times like that related in the article! If I could urinate in a barf bag I would, but if we women tried it, it would be a whole different show and tell!

Posted by: Cassie | March 29, 2007 1:33 PM

My daughter has traveled in what are called "third world countries". Airlines are quickly getting travel in the US down to this level.

Posted by: Dee | March 29, 2007 8:48 PM

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