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Monday, August 6, 2007

Flyover Country

posted by on August 6 at 10:14 AM

A couple of Thursdays ago I took the redeye from Seattle-to-Boston on Alaska Air. All three of us—my six foot tall boyfriend, my four-foot tall son, and six-foot-one me—were jammed into the very last row. Our seats didn’t recline but the seats in front of us sure did. Shortly after take-off we had three snoring passengers in our laps. After two sleepless hours in the middle-seat, I got up and went to the bathroom. When I got out my boyfriend and son had spread out—and both were fast asleep. DJ was laying across all three seats, his head in Terry’s lap. Terry’s legs were taking up all our floor space. I didn’t have the heart to wake them.

So I went back to the bathroom.

Everyone else on the flight appeared to be fast asleep and there were three toilets at the back of the plane. So I didn’t think anyone would mind or even notice if I… occupied one. For three hours.

I hate flying—hate, hate, hate—and airplane toilets are one the #2 reason. (#1? Airplane crashes.) You just know airplane toilets are beyond filthy. They don’t have time to clean ‘em, not with the way they rush people on and off airplanes. And most of the people that use ‘em can barely fit into them, let alone aim a stream of urine properly. And who can wash their hands in that tiny sink? And that bottle of soap sitting next to the sink always looks like the filthiest damn thing on the whole damn airplane anyway. So you know that a thick veneer of feces covers every surface—the hard, plastic edges around the tissue and towel dispensers, the door handle, the seat itself. Eesh.

And then there are those… chemicals. That blue stuff in the toilets? I don’t know what it is… but whatever it is… it’s so powerful that no matter what went down in that toilet before you got in there… all you can smell is the blue stuff. It certainly can’t be good for you to inhale all those fumes.

So airplane toilets give me ebola cooties and I try like hell to avoid spending any time in them. But my act of love and sacrifice required me to spend nearly three hours in one, staring at the inside of the door.

LavDoor.jpg

I don’t know how long I was sitting there, trying not to touch anything, staring at the inside of the door before I noticed the ashtray in the middle of it—conveniently located mid-door, so that you could sit and shit and piss and smoke…

LavAshtray.jpg

How long has smoking been banned in airplane toilets? A decade or two now, right? So sitting there in the can, nearly delirious and high on the fumes, I started to panic. I mean, a plane had to be old—really, really old—to have fucking ashtrays in the fucking toilets, right? My sleeplessness, delirium, and the fumes, my fear of airplane toilets and fear of crashing made for a very, very long night in the can. When we finally landed in Boston I went straight to a bathroom—a relatively clean one—where I washed my hands, arms, and face, changed my clothes, and threw out the copy of the New Yorker I’d been reading in the airplane toilet.

RSS icon Comments

1

Well, the fact of the matter is that for the legacy carriers, indeed, their planes are decades old, but you needn't worry too much just because there are ashtrays. Alaska isn't that old an airline and during their expansion, they purchased new planes. I would suspect that Boeing tries to save money by standardizing interiors, which means ashtrays on all planes, even though it's mostly Kuwaiti and Asian airlines that still allow smoking onboard.

Posted by Gitai | August 6, 2007 10:26 AM
2
...and threw out the copy of the New Yorker Id been reading in the airplane toilet.

You spent 3 hours in the bathroom and you didn't even have a proper spank magazine? That's more than most would do for their familiy.

Posted by Sean | August 6, 2007 10:27 AM
3

@2

He was secretly waiting for Ralph Fiennes to walk in.

Posted by Mr. Poe | August 6, 2007 10:31 AM
4

@3

...Or tranny Kate Blanchett

Posted by UNPAID BLOGGER | August 6, 2007 10:35 AM
5

Before you complain about airplane potties or any other nasty public toilets, you should at least be thankful you have the option of peeing standing up. And changing tampons in those prisons? Damn near impossible.

Posted by Myrtle | August 6, 2007 10:39 AM
6

Old planes aren't any more dangerous than new ones.

Posted by Fnarf | August 6, 2007 10:45 AM
7

@6: In fact, in some ways they're safer than brand new ones. Old designs almost invariably have a stack of FAA Airworthiness Directives, each one of which represents a legal requirement to fix some problem that was found with the original design.

Think of it like Windows. It gets a lot more reliable after the first couple of Service Packs come out. ;)

Aircraft aren't like a car that you run until it dies and then abandon on the shoulder of I-5. They're meticulously inspected and repaired, until economics or the rated lifespan limits on their components forces them to be retired.

Posted by Orv | August 6, 2007 10:50 AM
8

I don't think I love anyone enough not to wake them up to get out of my seat. But I'm a selfish bastard.

Posted by monkey | August 6, 2007 10:53 AM
9

You know, Dan, they have these new inventions called trains. The travel part of them takes longer (3 days to Boston), but the seats are bigger, the bathrooms are bigger, the food is better, you can see the lanscape you're traveling through, you get to stand up and walk around, you get to use your cell phones, and they don't fall out of the sky. Also, no fascist FTA security people going through your luggage and stealing shit. And, as a final bonus, they're infinitely more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly. And the price isn't bad. If you'd planned ahead all three of you could've gone to Boston and back for $770.

Posted by Judah | August 6, 2007 10:55 AM
10

Dan,

Bless your heart but how can a man who takes so little crap in print be such an utter pussy in real life? My boyfriend/partner/whateverdafuck and I have been together for 16 years, but if he's hogging up my precious few millimeters of coach seat space, he's getting the sharp end of the elbow. Turning yourself into an exhausted, cooty-ridden, blue-water smelling basket case is not going to help your family, it's just going to make them want to kill you for your passive-aggressive behavior. Sheesh.

Posted by Providence | August 6, 2007 10:56 AM
11

that is disgusting. Dan - you went beyond sacrifice and became offensive. Did your family know what you did? Are they ever going to let you touch them again? Uck. that isn't nice. that's just gross, simply gross, and nothing more that that. Sorry.

Posted by Audrey | August 6, 2007 10:59 AM
12

I take the train to Chicago and back when I can--I would rather spend two days on the train than two hours in the air. My boyfriend, sadly, feels very differently. He won't go by train. So we fly.

Posted by Dan Savage | August 6, 2007 11:01 AM
13

Whenever I've considered taking the train I've invariably found that a ticket would cost two or three times what an airline ticket would -- not counting the extra days I'd have to take off work. So I've never actually done it. I'm sure it's fun, though.

Posted by Orv | August 6, 2007 11:04 AM
14

My husband is 6'5" and gets incredibly annoyed at the people who recline their seats in front of him on a plane. With his knees there, they can't recline more than 2 degrees. Then they assume the seat is stuck or something, so they try to force it back, crushing his kneecaps.

I don't bother reclining on airlines because it's annoying to the person behind me and you can barely fucking tell that you're reclined anyway.

Posted by Jordyn | August 6, 2007 11:04 AM
15
Posted by UNPAID BLOGGER | August 6, 2007 11:12 AM
16

Dan, you may want to get a copy of Ask the Pilot before your next flight.

(I think the author used to offer for-pay over-the-phone counselling for people at the airport, or on the plane, who were getting super-anxious about their flight, but I don't see that on his site anymore.)

Posted by S. Ben Melhuish | August 6, 2007 11:19 AM
17

Remember, your seat cushion may be used as a knee protection device.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 6, 2007 11:33 AM
18

Whenever I fly the same fantasy of atmospheric debris tearing through the top of the plane plays on a loop. After the twelfth or fourteenth time visualizing the scene and split second realization that you're helpless to do anything to prevent your death and are going to die before parts of the plane start their downward trajectory, or explode midair, the improbability is replaced by expectation. Tick, tick, tick, any second now the top of the plane is will be ripped asunder... Oh well, that same helpless vulnerability also works with detonating plastique in the luggage bay and compartments.

No vacant seats anywhere else, or a attendant to pester for theirs while they do the rounds? It's not even conscious martyrdom at that point.

Posted by Tank | August 6, 2007 11:43 AM
19

dan, WAKE YOUR KID UP. you have the right to a seat, too.

Posted by maxsolomon | August 6, 2007 12:08 PM
20

Speaking for rational (??) people everywhere; if someone spends three hours in an airplane toilet I'm going to assume they've either died or are assembling a bomb.

Posted by Brian | August 6, 2007 12:16 PM
21

Savage - I love your tales from the road.

Here's my trick for people who wish to recline into my lap (it happened once on a flight to Paris and the MF was out for 9 hours. I had to struggle to get out of my seat!); The minute you sit put your knees up against the seat in front of you. After take-off when the person in front wants to recline, he/she can't because the knees prevent it. He or she will think something is wrong with the seat. If they persist in trying to recline, give a yelp out, "Oh fuck! My knees!"

That usually puts an end to it because either you or the person in front will get a new seat without someone in back/front or the person will just have to remain upright and bitch about it like you'd have to bitch if he or she was in your lap.

It works 99% of the time. And by the way, if there's any room in first class, Alaska will let you upgrade for $50-$100 (depending on distance) at the gate.

Sorry about the flight. It sounds dreadful. Obviously, you aren't claustrophobic.

Posted by Bauhaus | August 6, 2007 12:17 PM
22

Dan...they had bars of soap? Every plane I've been on ever has a bottle...

..and everytime I've checked train prices they are equal to or more than flying. Also, the only person I've known who's taken one had it take 5 hours longer than it would have driving, because of all the stops. For those of you who take the train, are those isolated experiences? Are they usually cheaper?

Not that I can take one from here (Hawaii) but I wouldn't mind it in the future. I hate flying.

Posted by Dianna | August 6, 2007 12:20 PM
23

This story is hysterical. Hy-sterical. And sweet in a way.

Posted by Michigan Matt | August 6, 2007 12:24 PM
24

You know Dan, in this modern age of the internets, you can actually select your seats before you travel based on a map of the airplane. With even a little bit of advance planning, you can select a nice bulkhead or exit row seat. There's tons of leg room and your seats will recline!

By the way, don't ever sit directly in front of an exit row. Your seats won't recline there.


Posted by Mahtli69 | August 6, 2007 12:25 PM
25

@24: Some airlines have figured this trick out and have started charging extra for exit row seats.

Posted by Orv | August 6, 2007 12:28 PM
26

People flaming Dan for this is nonsensically hilarious.

Fun fact: the chemicals in the airplane toilet are to help dissolve your piss/crap/refuse, because guess where it goes when you flush?

There is no septic storage tank. It flies out of a hole on the side of the jet and into the stratosphere. It is hoped that your waste, with the help of the blue chemicals, dissolves into physically negligible matter before it hits the ground or otherwise evaporates.

Also, this is why you're not allowed to use the toilets during takeoff, ascent, descent or landing. If shitmatter lands in the middle of nowhere, whatever, but if it lands on the homes, businesses and heads of people, then you've got a problem.

Posted by Gomez | August 6, 2007 12:39 PM
27

@26 That just got me thinking. So, when I use the restroom immediately after getting on a plane, it's going straight down onto the tarmac?

Posted by Callie | August 6, 2007 12:50 PM
28

@25 - This is true, but getting stuck in the ass-end of the plane is the result of making no effort to get a seat assignment.

SOMEBODY has to sit in the very back, but everyone has the power to make that somebody be another poor schmo. Say it with me: "Selfish YES, bruised knees and deep-vein thrombosis NO!"

Posted by Mahtli69 | August 6, 2007 1:22 PM
29

27. With luck, it'll stay in the pipes before you get in the air and the requisite lack of air pressure sucks it out.

Posted by Gomez | August 6, 2007 1:25 PM
30

Hilarious story.

BTW, Singapore Airlines bathrooms are beautiful.

Posted by Brad | August 6, 2007 1:28 PM
31

Gomez - I don't think so, buddy. They use holding tanks.

The valves are typically located on the exterior of the plane, allowing only tarmac crews to access the waste.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | August 6, 2007 1:33 PM
32

@15 that is AWESOME! Me want for my next plane ride. Especially for the lovely passive aggressive card - was this product made in Seattle? heee...

I would've tried to find some other solution - find another seat somewhere or ask and attendant to help explain to the people ahead to move their seats up - but I actually love this story, complete with photos. Sometimes when I'm stuck doing something unpleasant/gross/whatever, I think of what a great story it'll make later. Dan Savage sat in a scuzzy airplane crapper for our enjoyment, folks. That's dedication!

BTW, I try my darnedest to not have to use the loo during a flight, but a word to the wise: do NOT board a plane if you are hungover. I'm sure this seems obvious, but once I returned from a friend's wedding slightly hungover. For the first and only time in my life, I thought I was going to puke on a plane. I went back to the loo, but the shaking of the plane was so much stronger back there I was too scared to puke!

Posted by genevieve | August 6, 2007 1:42 PM
33

As a frequent flyer with over a million miles, I have to weigh in here and flush this all out.

#1: SeatGuru.com is my bible. It shows seat maps of most every airline and every aircraft they fly. The website highlights good seats, and those to avoid. Never ever let the airline assign your seats, and never take the last row. http://www.seatguru.com/

#2 Alaska's east coast flights are flown with newer 737s. Alaska's existing fleet didn't have the range to fly cross country, so they had to buy new, longer range aircraft. I can't explain that lavatory ashtray though; can't imagine Alaska would have ordered it.

Also, the folks upfront don't have it any nicer - it's the same restroom. However, consistently on Alaska's newer aircraft, the first class lavatory seat won't stay up allowing guys to pee properly. You have to hold you're cock with one hand and keep the seat propped up with the other. Talk about a mess when the seat slams down mid-stream!

#3. Lavatory waste absolutely DOES NOT get flushed out the aircraft in-flight; it collects in tanks which are emptied on the ground. Haven't you heard those horror stories where the toilets clog up, or where they overflow down the aisle? Don't believe everything you read!

Dan: you're a local, if not nearly a national celebrity now. Pull a Paris/Lohan and whine you're way upfront!

Posted by ATLSEA | August 6, 2007 2:00 PM
34

i think the same exact thing whenever i see that no smoking sign in the bathrooms. it completely sends me into a panic. when i was a kid, we had to do a field trip to the airport (weird) and i think that's where my fear of flying began. i think they should still have these field trips, for adults, so that we can ask them why the hell that sign on the bathroom is still there!?!?

Posted by maria | August 6, 2007 2:04 PM
35

@31: That's my understanding, too. In fact, when the discharge valves *do* leak, it can cause problems because the liquid will freeze onto the exterior of the plane and build up a substantial amount of ice there. This may be where the myth comes from, because I think there was an incident once where the resulting chunk of ice broke off the aircraft and caused damage on the ground. (This, too, may be an urban myth, though. I can't find anything about it on Snopes.)

Posted by Orv | August 6, 2007 2:04 PM
36

Orv - I've been in the path of falling ice from a small jet flying over Dicovery Park. You could hear the crashes of the brick-sized and bigger pieces approaching like it was some invisible beast, but lo the ice wasn't blue or yellow or brown.

Also, here's a diagram and explaination of the vacuum toilet system/holding tank deely here -->
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/aircrash/jetl-nf.html

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | August 6, 2007 2:23 PM
37

did anyone actually believe gomez? his name is gomez. thank you.

Posted by audrey | August 6, 2007 2:25 PM
38

@36: Ice can accumulate on aircraft in other ways, of course -- like by flying through clouds when the temperature is close to freezing. You probably experienced ice shedding off an airplane that had previously flown through icing conditions, as it descended into warmer air.

Posted by Orv | August 6, 2007 2:27 PM
39

However, consistently on Alaska's newer aircraft, the first class lavatory seat won't stay up allowing guys to pee properly. You have to hold you're cock with one hand and keep the seat propped up with the other. -- ATLSEA

Why not just take your chances with seat down. What's the worst that could you happen?

Posted by fl | August 6, 2007 2:30 PM
40

#39 - fl

It's a guy thing - habit, and doing what ever is fastest.

You typically try it standing up and sit thereafter.

Oh yeah - cooties could happen, not to mention a 1,000 other viruses.

Posted by ATLSEA | August 6, 2007 2:36 PM
41

#39 - fl

It's a guy thing - habit, and doing what ever is fastest.

You typically try it standing up and sit thereafter.

Oh yeah - cooties could happen, not to mention a 1,000 other viruses.

Posted by ATLSEA | August 6, 2007 2:39 PM
42

Indeed, Orv - I'm glad it was the regular (and poorly-aimed) ice machine functioning that day!

Sorry to sully anyone's bubble, but Germophobes bring out the Irritatingphobe in me.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | August 6, 2007 2:53 PM
43

I think all new aircraft still have ashtrays. I fly Frontier Airlines regularly and they fly new Airbus craft all manufactured since 2000 and they all have ashtrays in the bathroom. Just speculating but I believe domestic airlines sell their older planes to overseas-based airlines and any place that isn't the USA will have airplanes full of smokers. I guess it's easy to reconfigure the seats but not the bathrooms?

Posted by Matt from Denver | August 6, 2007 2:58 PM
44

Dan, meet Ambien. True, some medical professionals strongly recommend not using sleeping pills during flights for a variety of reasons, but I don't get on a plane without it. Reclining seats, screaming children, and neighbors with their iPods on full blast fade into sweet slumber with one of these. I prefer to wash it down with a double vodka tonic. If you're on a flight shorter than eight hours, bite it in half and share with a friend. And if you crash, you'll sleep through the whole thing.

@15, many airlines have banned that device, and a quick call to a steward will force their removal. I was on a plane last year and a guy got kicked off during the layover because he refused to remove the ones he'd attached to a seat. Just a heads up.

Posted by rb | August 6, 2007 3:21 PM
45

Was anyone besides be struck how blatently rude Dan was to the other passengers for occuping a restroom all that time with the childish excuse because there were three? I wonder how may times the other two were occupied and someone really had to go. I'm totally appalled. A true gentleman in the classic sense of the word would have thought about that.

Posted by raindrop | August 6, 2007 3:50 PM
46

I am a huge train fan, but even I admit that the long-distance trains are more expensive than flying (if you get a room) but takes less time than driving (unless you are of the adult diaper and meth school of driving)

But, if nothing else, train travel is much less annoying than either flying or driving unless you are the high-strung type.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | August 6, 2007 6:45 PM
47

3 hours in the can? Dude, that was enough time to make some quality jenkem

Posted by joe | August 6, 2007 9:52 PM
48

I'm gonna need to find my source for that tidbit and punch him in the mouth.

Posted by Gomez | August 6, 2007 11:21 PM
49

Minneapolis>Denver by car: I-35 to Des Moines, I-80 to North Platte, I-76 to Denver. 12 hours, you're there.

Same trip on Amtrak (according to their website): Minneapolis, PORTLAND, SACRAMENTO, Denver. FOUR DAYS.

Hard to believe more people don't take the train.

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50

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