How to Avoid Having Your Kid Have to Pee on an Airplane Seat

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Who knew that you would need a strategy to avoid having your potty trained kid have to pee on an airplane seat, but you apparently do.  If you read much mainstream media you probably already heard the story of a three year old who had to use the restroom during a delay on a recent New York – Boston JetBlue flight.  The delay was reportedly around 30 minutes, and during that time the three year old told her mom she needed to “potty”, mom got up to take the kid to the restroom, was told by the flight attendant she could not at that time, and you can guess what the outcome was at that point.  Yup, the kid peed in the seat.

Again, you can probably guess what the next action of a parent will be when the kid and seat are covered in pee.  Ding, ding ding, the mom tried to clean the kid up and was again “yelled at” by the flight attendant and told to sit down.   And what, have the kid sit in a pool of pee?  That sounds pleasant for everyone involved.  Sounds like in the end she used her sweater to clean the mess as best as she could.  As the story goes, the mom was then reported to the pilot as being a non-compliant passenger, the plane returned to the gate, and the reason gave over the speaker was that it was for a non-compliant passenger.  Sigh. 

The one thing this mom seems to have had on her side was that other passengers backed her up on Twitter, and an off-duty pilot a couple rows away from her reportedly helped convinced the flight crew to let her stay on the flight.  Sadly what she didn’t have on her side was a reasonable flight crew working the flight she was on.  Obviously I wasn’t there, but I 100% believe the series of events could have unfolded exactly as the mom describes.  I haven’t been in this exact scenario, but I have been in some pretty similar ones where some flight attendants either just don’t get it when it comes to kids, or they just don’t care.  They don’t need to really care about kids in order to do their job, but it is helpful to understand that not finding a solution for a kid that needs to potty only ends poorly for everyone.  They need to care about that.  Honestly, it could also be an adult who needs” to go” right that second as well or it will end poorly, too.  This really isn’t something relegated just for kids, but let’s not go there for now.

So, what can you do to avoid having your own kid have to pee in an airplane seat?  Well, first say a prayer to the travel gods and participate in sending all the good travel karma into the universe that you can, but beyond that here are a few practical suggestions to avoid accidents on planes.

  • Have your kids go right before boarding.  I know you can’t physically force them to go, but do your very best to instruct, bribe, whatever.  I’d say we have about an 85% success rate with this step.
  • Limit fluids before flying.  I’m sure this one isn’t for everyone, but I certainly don’t encourage my kid to tank up on drinks right before boarding.  I’m not talking about dehydrating them, but don’t encourage them to drink more than they need in the 60-90 minutes before boarding.  Also don’t encourage drinking while you are still on the ground during a delay.  Of course again don’t dehydrate them, but save the drinks until you are airborne, if possible.
  • Put pull-ups on kids that are “mostly” or recently potty trained.  We used pull-ups for our daughter on flights after she was potty trained for a while just in case there was a slip-up or a situation where she could not safely get up to use the restroom in time.  That said, there I haven’t done that in a while with her as she is past the point of wanting to wear a pull-up.
  • Sit near the lav.  If you can pick seats near the lav you will increase the chance you can make it in time.  During beverage services the cart can black you from the lav for long periods of time if you haven’t selected your seat wisely.
  • Be super nice to everyone, but don’t be shy about making it clear you need to get your child to the bathroom NOW if necessary.
  • Explain to your kid in advance when you are or aren’t able to use the potty on the plane – this may help them go right before getting on.

If you do all of those things you will probably never have a problem with a kid having an accident on a plane, but there are never any guarantees, and there are always factors outside of your control.  So what could you do if the flight attendant told you that you cannot take your child to the lav?


Keep your kid happy and avoid “accidents” on planes

My experience with going to the lav when the seatbelt sign is on is that they tell you the seatbelt sign is on as they are supposed to, but they don’t actually stop you from going.  That would be a different story perhaps on an active taxiway, during takeoff, or on final approach.  My understanding is this plane was not an on active runway during their delay, so theoretically things shouldn’t have had to go down the way they did.  I like this flight attendant’s take on the situation and her suggested response for future similar occurrences.

My favorite take away from that flight attendant’s post was the quote, “Flight attendants are hired for a myriad of skills, common sense hopefully being one of them.”  Amen.  All most situations require is some common sense in order to find a decent resolution.  There are rules, there are regulations, there are safety guidelines, etc.  I’m sure they are all there for a reason, but when you forget to also throw in a dash of common sense everyone loses…and some end up sitting in a puddle of pee.

How did your family avoid accidents for your little ones on planes?


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  1. We’ve used pull-ups to avoid situations like this with kids who are potty-trained but not quite experienced enough to know how to hold it for a while. The parent could have been better prepared, BUT shame on the airline for how they handled it–they know that things happen from time to time and they ought to be prepared to deal with it.

  2. When presented as a choice, my kids always preferred to use a pull-up rather than risk a pee accident, and that stayed true until well after they were no longer regularly wearing diapers (at least to age four, if not beyond). We didn’t _make_ them wear the pull-up, just presented the possible scenarios, and they could (generally) be counted on to the make the right decision.

    While it certainly sounds like the FA in this case was not using common sense it’s very possible to come up with situations in which a child legitimately might have to wait 20 minutes or more to use the bathroom (plane near the front of the take-off queue, heavy turbulence, etc). I think part of responsible parenting is to ensure that those easily foreseeable situations are planned for in advance — and that’s pretty much going to mean having children in pull-ups until you’re certain they can hold it in for at least half an hour.

    While it doesn’t excuse poor treatment by the FA, I think the mother was partly to blame in this incident.

  3. The plane is on the taxiway, waiting to take off. Unless the pilot authorizes a passenger to be up, it is against FAA regulations to do so. If a passenger is up, and the plane is instructed to move, and a passenger is injured, who will the passenger likely sue? Not the little girls fault, no question. Not the flight attendants fault – regulations are there for a reason. All fault points towards Mom in my opinion. Flights between NYC and BOS frequently do not have seatbelt sign turned off due to the lower altitude and short 35 flight time, however flight attendants will typically not stop folks from using the lav’s while in the air.

  4. Sorry Summer, but I must disagree with you. An aircraft on the ground is not a safe time for anyone to be moving around, least of all a child or a parent accompanying a child. I’ve seen too many injuries occur during this phase of operation to accept any excuse short of the imminent threat of actual physical harm. Better that the child soils themselves than injures themselves more seriously. There has to be zero tolerance because anything else is simply an unacceptable level of risk.

    Also, any taxiway that an aircraft with passengers is maneuvering on is considered an active taxiway. Basically if your aircraft’s engines have been started, wherever it is located is “active” – be it a taxiway, runway or apron. At a busy airport like JFK, shutting down and blocking a taxiway to let a child go potty would potentially disrupt a dozen flights or more (think 1000+ passengers).

    The crewmember made the right call, but obviously didn’t communicate it well enough to the passenger. The issue should not be what the crewmember did, but rather how they were unable to explain their decision effectively.

    • Maybe its time both you and that flight attendant read the latest FAA regulation.Please read the 3rd point carefully, it never mentions how much delay, it simply says “During delay”. 30 mins are also considered delay as in this case.

      New U.S. Department of Transportation regulations on tarmac delays went into effect in late April 2010. So how do the new rules protect air passengers? Here are some highlights:
      Airlines must return planes to the gate and let passengers off any time a flight is sitting on the tarmac for three hours.
      Airlines must provide passengers with adequate food and water within the first two hours of any tarmac delay.
      Adequate toilet facilities must be maintained and made available to passengers during the delay.
      Airlines must designate one employee to monitor flight delays and cancellations, respond to passenger complaints, and instruct passengers on the complaint filing process.
      Airlines must post and maintain updated flight delay data on their websites — including information on flights that are frequently delayed — for each domestic flight they operate.

      Flight attendant did not follow the FAA regulations, she should be FIRED. Simple..

      • A delayed flight is still subject to every safety regulation. If the aircraft was parked awaiting clearances it is one thing, but from every account this aircraft was not in that situation. A 30-minute “delay” at JFK is basically normal taxi-out at some times of day.

        I’m not disagreeing that the situation was probably badly handled by the crew (it is an extreme situation that would warrant having to return to stand and I don’t believe this situation met that standard), but that there WERE genuine safety issues involved.

        • According to the Flight Attendant blog MP links to, the plane was not on the taxiway nor the runway, which means it was likely at the gate. The blog also outlines a solution to the problem that does nto involve loose urine in the sealed cabin.

  5. Besides small children, I will mention here an incident which happened to me personally. I and my wife boarded a Turkish Airlines flight from IST-LAX. After boarding the flight, it remained on the ground at a remote corner of the runway for about 90 minutes due to some delays. Once it took off then due to turbulence the seat belt sign would not go off for another 90 minutes. My wife had to use the lavatory but was turned back by the flight attendant. Finally breaking point came when she saw another passenger using the lavatory despite the seat belt sign on. Moral of the story is to be cautious with liquid intake immediately before any flight unless it is necessary.

  6. As this story unfolded the past few days, all I could think was “There, but for the grace of God, go I!” We luckily didn’t have any flights in the few months right after we potty trained my daughter, so we had a lot of time to practice on the ground. I definitely brought pull ups a few times many months later though – even if you don’t put them on your child, at least you could do a quick change into them if you are stuck on the tarmac and can’t get up.

  7. The reality is here is that if the crew doesn’t work with the parent to take the kid potty everyone now has a problem. It’s on the parent to try and prevent the accident, but not addressing the problem here resulted in the plane going back to the gate anyway. It’s a lose/lose.

  8. I’ll take it there, simply because I haven’t (yet) experienced it with a kid. As an *adult* (or, as close to one as I’ll ever be :p) living with Crohn’s disease, there are many times where I’ve been on a plane and *really gotta go*. Fortunately it’s never been a major problem on say, take-off, landing, etc, but there have been times where I’ve had the thought “if they try to stop me, there’s gonna be trouble”. I know it’s against regulations and there is a high level of risk there. I’m relatively skilled enough to know when the risk factor is higher (of course, things can always go wrong on a plane), and know when I *really* shouldn’t get up, and when a flight attendant is just over-doing things a bit. If an FA tried to stop me during the latter, what are they really going to do? Open the door and pull me out of the lav in the middle of things? I can’t help but think the same thing applies to a kid. I know that if I was the pax sitting next to that kid, I’d much rather their mommy/daddy breaks the rules than pee next to me 🙂

  9. So the problem for the flight crew is, you say “I gotta go” and then you spend 15 minutes in the can. Pilot got ROLL orders and is now sitting waiting on you. Sure there’s a safety concern but mostly it’s about flight schedules. So I can kind of see the point of it, but still the FA should have been more helpful or at least brought a towel or something!

    OTOH when it’s inflight, that seatbelt sign means nothing to me. If my kid has to go, well they have to go. Most FA will tell you, they DISCOURAGE you from being up, but don’t want to say you CAN’T be up and about.

    I once had a face-off with the FC FA’s about the forward bathroom. Preschooler has to go, rear lavs are lined up people in the aisles so I go forward. They start to tell me I gotta wait because they are about to let the pilot out. I say OK but he’s about to pee all over your FC floor. They call the pilots and put a hold on that and we went ahead.

  10. Once, we were in a long line of planes waiting to take off. My young DD said she had to go NOW. I explained she would have to wait. As we moved up a bit and stopped, inching toward our turn, my DD let me know it was NOW or there would be an accident. I didn’t know what to do so I ran my button. The FA got up and came over. I explained we had a bathroom emergency. He asked me to please wait so he could alert the pilot. He went to his phone and called it in. The pilot stopped the plane and haulted it for us. FA came back and got us and asked us to please hurry as the plane could not move while we were up and in the lav. We went super quick and returned to our seats as fast as possible. It was our plane’s turn to inch forward again the FA told us as the pilot was dinging the light up bell. I saw the FA on the phone letting the pilot know we were back in our seats, and off we rolled. I was EXTREMELY appreciative and thanked him many times afterward. But I had no idea how lucky we were until now when I read about the nasty crew and that poor child who had to wet herself. The bottom line for me is this: It is difficult enough to fly, it is even more difficult to fly with children.

  11. @ Carrie: That is the way how these situations should be handled. We as passengers should do our best to avoid such incidents in the first place but if it is unavoidable then the initiative lies with the FAs

  12. These are sticky situations for tiny tots and they need to be handled more delicately by the airlines. I think the flight crew should do a potty-break check before take-off on each flight. Better to delay the take-off by a few minutes than leave a wet diaper or soiled pants on junior if the little tike can’t wait to answer nature’s call.

  13. First, I think the mom should file a complaint with the FAA and the BBB, as the actions of the crew were completely unwarranted (they turned the plane around anyway due the labeling the mom an “unruly” passenger, so a potty break delay would have been the same or less time).
    Another problem is the hazmat issue. Urine is a hazardous material, and for the crew to fly the plane with a hazardous liquid floating around the cabin is a safety issue for all of the passengers! I bet the seats were not properly sanitized after the flight, either.
    The link posted by MP on a Flight Attendant’s blog indicates the aircraft was not in the taxiway and agrees it would be easy to allow the mom and child to use the potty.
    I think this is shameful.

  14. When we returned from the hospital with an elderly aunt, we had a supply of thin blue pads that can be spread on a bed to make cleaning up any messes much easier. They use these pads in some nursing homes as well. They are designed to cover the sheet in the area where one’s bottom is.

    Perhaps traveling with a supply of such pads – they are light and fold easily; you might even be able to cut them to size before a trip – would be a way to protect the seat and make clean up, should something happen, much easier. A child who won’t wear a pullup might not mind sitting on a seat with a pad protectively tucked under him or her.

    Hey, the story makes me wonder if we should all be sitting on such pads to protect ourselves from a not-very-clean seat cushion!

  15. We’re all human and I agree with you MommyPoints, understanding is needed on both sides. I once was on a round of antibiotics with the unfortunate side effect of diarrhea, which would hit randomly and suddenly. Thankfully, I made it on a TPAC flight without incident, but had to pull over on the car ride home to use the bushes. Sometimes the timing of these things are hard to control even when you try your best. As an adult, I am still traumatized by not being able to reach the toilet in time – thank goodness I wasn’t on that JetBlue flight!

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