I was flying a fully loaded, C-177 Cardinal in a trio of aircraft rented from the Edmonton Flying Club on a tour of the foothills southbound from Edmonton to Rocky Mountain House, then south to Calgary. My bladder began making me seriously regret my morning coffee. As we neared Calgary, the “pain” became urgent and I briefly considered using the sick sack, but in that crowded cabin with four occupants, I decided to persevere, hoping to avoid an even worse calamity. Needless to say, I diverted from the sight-seeing mission and dove at maximum speed into Springbank airport (which, at the time, was a relatively new training satellite airport west of Calgary). Immediately after landing and clearing the runway I switched the VHF radio to the ground controller and asked for “vectors” to the nearest bathroom! I was beyond modesty at this point and taxying as fast as safely able. We received prompt instructions and I’m sure I could hear a smile in the controller’s voice. We were followed by the rest of our group and as each aircraft cleared the runway and checked in, they were told: “Cleared to follow the aircraft ahead to the nearest bathroom.” Thankfully, I made it in the knick of time, but I endured good-natured ribbing from the rest of the gang. It seems, everyone knows a ton of bathroom puns and isn’t afraid to use them.
This day, upon arrival in Winnipeg, I didn’t need to request vectors to the nearest bathroom, but again, I wasted no time during taxi. Happily, our plan went smoothly. Our passengers flooded off the plane and scuttled into a long lineup that wound around the holding room. No one dawdled but took care of business as efficiently as practicable and we got everyone back on board without leaving anyone behind. Meanwhile our mechanics installed a new computer component and again, reset the system. I used a washroom near the ramp office where the first officer and I picked up a new flight plan, while the refueller squirted a few more kilos of Jet-A into our tanks. Our pushback crew arrived promptly, did their thing, and as quickly as possible, we were on our way again. Several minutes later we were climbing eastward again towards Montreal. Above the critical altitude I had the purser re-test the toilets, hoping. Joy! Everything worked!
The passengers took the unplanned “adventure” in stride with good humor. We arrived in Montreal close enough to schedule so no one missed their connections. As we said goodbye from the flight deck doorway, there were smiles and laughter and good-natured teasing — and even more people with bathroom jokes to share. It’s surprising how this relatively small break from routine caused a sudden camaraderie in a group of people who would otherwise have little to say to one another.
I’ve had other flights where unserviceable toilets became an issue. Our MEL (Minimum Equipment List) actually contains “go,” “no-go” guidelines (groan) based upon the number of toilets unserviceable, number of passengers and duration of the flight — in case you are wondering — but this was my only trip when all the lavatories shut down unexpectedly, and we had to make an unplanned pit stop.