Bathroom Breaks – part 3

Previously in this story: “Attention, this is the captain. Please hold your pee.”


We suddenly got very busy on the company radio and our Datalink printer, in a discussion with the various company departments concerning our options. Someone suggested we cancel the rest of the trip and rebook passengers later in the day on the next flight from Winnipeg to Montreal. Someone else proposed we try once again to fix the problem and push on. The first officer and I discussed, just between ourselves, a possible third alternative. Could we descend below 16,000 feet, give everyone a chance to use the facilities, then climb back up to cruise altitude? We decided we didn’t have enough fuel, even if we could figure out the logistics. We didn’t bother including this in the discussion. Finally, the gurus in that mysterious department which every airline has, but pilots seldom see — that one that claims to have The Big Picture — settled on the second idea. We would attempt to fix the problem and keep going.

Now we had to scramble and “make it so.” We were already nearing our descent point into Winnipeg and time was growing short. I coordinated the flight plan deviation with ATC. As soon as we’d copied down the new clearance we assured them we did not require the emergency vehicles to meet us after landing – no, not even the infamous “honey wagon” that services our lavatory holding tanks. Suddenly, ATC was developing a sense of humor. Then we got busy typing this information into the FMC (Flight Management Computer), listening to the Winnipeg ATIS and searching out the necessary approach charts from our flight bags, setting up our navaids and briefing the new landing approach.

Meanwhile, we were coordinating our arrival time with our Winnipeg station to make sure we would have a gate and staff on hand to direct our “neediest” passengers to the nearest washrooms. We also called our dispatcher to generate a new flight plan for the next leg, and this time we made sure to include enough fuel to fly the entire route at 16,000 feet if the problem persisted. Winnipeg’s maintenance facility rushed to find the needed computer replacement part and have someone standing by at our arrival.

I advised the passengers as we neared Winnipeg, that as soon as they could get into the terminal building lounge, and make a ‘comfort stop’, they should re-board the aircraft so we could be on our way as quickly as possible. 

Now, the jokes came at us from every quarter: “Be sure to make an extra smooth landing so no one “spills” anything,” from the Purser. “Would this be a bad time to issue a holding clearance?” And “Do you need clearance for a “let down?” and, “Cleared direct to the Potty Intersection if you can find it?” from ATC. Those folks revealed a truly dark side to their humor that day. It reminded me briefly of an earlier time in my flying career when bladder limitations and wry ATC humor coincided. (to be continued) …

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