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The other day, I was on a flight and two of the toilets in my zone were blocked with a sign saying "Inoperative", I had to walk down the aisle to the back to use the toilet there. I asked a cabin crew member and she told me someone vomited in the sinks and blocked them, they can't be used anymore and they had to block them.

What happens if all toilets or most of them in a flight are inoperative at some point during the flight?

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Lavatories (airplane toilets) can be inoperative for many reasons, they could get blocked by someone vomiting in the sink, or by throwing tissues or other objects in either the sink or the toilet seat. Sometimes, when a waste tank is full, or there's a problem in the sensor of the tank giving a wrong signal, all flushes connected to that tank will not work, this happens in modern aircrafts.

If a sink or a flush are not working, the toilet has to be blocked by the crew/maintenance or stuff would be piling up!

For each aircraft type (usually depending on the passenger load and toilet locations), there is a limit of toilets that can be inoperative while airborne before the flight has to land at the nearest airport.

This depends on the model and airline's policy. But a rule of thumb is: half of the toilets in each zone should be operative. Otherwise the flight has to land if this happened during the flight. If the flight is on ground and for example all toilets in business class are inoperative, the plane can take off but no passengers should be in that class.

In some airlines, if all the toilets at the front are inoperative, even if there are no passengers, the plane has to land if it's flying or will not be able to take off if it's on ground because pilots are only allowed to use toilets in the front.

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    Unless it's a drone, which probably doesn't have any toilets, even an empty plane flown by pilots who urgently need to go to the toilet is a security risk. Unless they happen to carry a chamber pot. – gerrit Dec 17 '15 at 19:03
  • @gerrit sure.. at least on toilet at the front should be working.. – Nean Der Thal Dec 17 '15 at 19:12
  • This would depend both on the airline's policy as well as the regulations of the jurisdiction(s) under which the aircraft is operating. As far as pilots flying empty planes are concerned, there are many, many airplanes flown regularly that have no toilets. Pilots just go before they leave, make alternate arrangements, or land if they have to go. – reirab Dec 17 '15 at 22:25
  • @reirab true, hence i said "some airlines", it also depends on the length of the flight. An empty plane flying for 9 hours can not take off with no toilets working.. – Nean Der Thal Dec 17 '15 at 22:27
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    One example of a plane turning back for this reason: cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/… Another incident: nbcnews.com/id/19353374/ns/travel-news/t/… (diverted to Shannon, but they had the issue again, and did not divert a second time) – jcaron Dec 18 '15 at 0:58
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I was on a flight which used a CRJ (Canadair Regional Jet). This plane only has one lavatory and it was non-functional.

The flight crew notified us of the equipment malfunction shortly after take off. We just had to hold it for the duration of the 2 hour 40 minute flight. This was a particular problem for me since I have inflammatory bowel disease and need to go quite frequently. When I heard of the issue, I loaded up with the maximum doses of medicines I take with me to control such things. I got lucky and didn't need to use the lavatory during the flight.

How a flight crew handles this malfunction probably depends strongly upon the specifics of the scenario. In my case, the destination airport was also the airline company's maintenance hub. So the crew had to fly the plane to my destination airport to get it repaired anyway.

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    This sounds like a bad experience... – Thomas Shera Dec 18 '15 at 14:35
  • I had a similar experience on a regional flight between Washington and New York several years ago. That flight was only 40 minutes or so though. – Aleks G Dec 18 '15 at 19:10

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