Posted by: harrisonjones | July 13, 2011

He won’t come out of the toilet…

A United flight from Chicago to Germany had to divert to Cleveland yesterday because an unruly passenger would not stay in his seat and locked himself in the toilet. Now, I grew up in a house with seven people and one bathroom, so I know what it’s like when someone will not come out of the toilet. However, none of us ever had to be tackled and restrained to maintain order.  

I’ve mentioned the cost of diverting a flight before and it can be significant. Fuel, landing fees, extra crew cost,  and missed connections due to the delay, can eliminate any hope of making a profit on the flight. I’ve also mentioned that I think humans are the strangest of all the earth’s creatures, and I cite this incident as further support of that position. I mean, didn’t the man realize that he would be arrested and given his own little private space with a metal toilet bowl in the corner. At least he was smart enough to go to jail in the US, and not some third world jurisdiction.  

I offer two incidents from my exciting and colorful career as evidence that humans are strange. The first occurred when I was a brand new MD-88 captain and still trying to figure it all out. We were inbound to Dallas-FT. Worth and had just entered approach control’s domain. Bear in mind that being told to contact approach at DFW doesn’t mean that you will be landing any time soon, it simply means that you have been recognized as  a potential arrival for later in the day. However, I dutifully turned on the seat belt light because miracles sometimes occur. Shortly thereafter, the head mama called to tell me that a gentleman was in the lavatory and would not come out. I was not going to send the co-pilot back there and eliminate 50% of the eyeballs in the cockpit, while flying a crowded traffic pattern, and I was not going to leave the pattern and go back to Little Rock to get in line again either. When the flight attendant asked me what to do, I told her to sit down and strap in. She explained to me that we could not land with someone in the John, and I explained to her that we didn’t have enough fuel to outlast a case of severe constipation. I didn’t have time to explain my strange people theory to  her, but she readily agreed that we should land. I wish I could relate a logical conclusion to this episode, but when I left the airplane, the police were still trying to talk the man out of the lavatory. Our next flight was just  three gates away and we happily changed horses and sought new adventures.  

The second incident occurred at mid-Atlantic on a flight from Atlanta to Manchester, England. I was taking my  mid-flight break and napping in the cabin when the flight attendant woke me up early to inform me that a male passenger was walking through tourist and touching people as he moved past. Passengers were complaining and she had counseled the man to cease and desist. When he began his shenanigans again, she asked me to  speak with him. I invited him to the aft galley so as not to disturb the sleeping passengers and explained that he had no choice but to sit down and behave. He hung his head, apologized, and sat down. Remember that my  theme here is strange people. I returned to the flight deck and sent one of the co-pilots on break. An hour later the flight attendant (a salty lady of vast experience) came to the cockpit to share a cup of coffee with us and watch the sun rise. I asked if our weirdo was behaving and she said, “He is now.” 

I thought that required further comment and I asked her to elaborate. She said, “He walked past a big guy’s  seat and touched him on the shoulder and then the big guy reached out and touched him just below the right eye. He’s been quiet as a church mouse ever since.” 

I asked if she knew who hit him and she said, “Of course, I do.”

I asked if she was sure about that and she re-considered. “You know, I don’t think any of the crew saw who did it.” 

When we landed, she invited the guy with the left hook to leave the airplane first and he was long gone when the  Bobbies arrested the man with the black eye. We went to the hotel and he went to jail.


  1. You have weird people no matter what business you are in. It’s a little more interesting to deal with when you are 33000 feet or more above the ground.

    We once had a couple crawling around on their hands and knees in our car lot looking for rock chips on a Malibu. On a three year old car I would expect to find one or two but I’ve never seen anyone so dilligent in their search.

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