Who’s to blame for these peeing-on-plane incidents?

We’ve had two public urination incidents on planes within the last week.

That’s not quite a trend, but all we need is for one more copycat drunkard to relieve himself on a flight for my good friends at USA Today to put this issue on the front page.

Last week, Robert “Sandy” Vietze, a member of the US skiing team, was accused of urinating on a 12-year-old girl while on a red-eye flight from Portland, Ore., to JFK. Vietze reportedly consumed “five or six” beers, and claims to have passed out in his seat and woken up to find himself being yelled at by the girl’s father. He faces a federal misdemeanour charge of indecent exposure, according to the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn.

And this morning, a passenger on a Paris-to-Dublin flight, unable to control his bladder, relieved himself on the floor of the aircraft. Reports say the inebriated passenger announced “I need to piss, I need to piss,” before doing the deed.

The man’s name? Gerard Depardieu. As in, the French actor.

Peeing-on-plane incidents are not unheard of. But they rarely happen this close together.

We had one in June on a flight from Auckland to Singapore. The passenger, who was reportedly drunk, urinated in a plane aisle during the flight, spraying other passengers. Remarkably, he was let off with a warning.

The last major public urination incident in the United States happened in 2009, when Jerome Kenneth Kingzio was sentenced to three weeks in prison for urinating on a 66-year-old woman during a Continental Airlines from Los Angeles to Honolulu. The victim was reportedly headed to Hawaii on for a scuba diving vacation and was watching an in-flight movie when Kingzio stood up next to her aisle seat and began urinating on her midway through the flight.

What’s going on? For all I know, these could be three random incidents where passengers boarded the plane after having one drink too many.

But my nine-year-old son would beg to differ.

On a recent international flight, he woke up and had to go badly. Since we were in the first row of economy class, and he could practically see the business class restroom beyond the drawn curtain, he made a mad dash for it before I could stop him.

A flight attendant blocked his way, forcing him to march all the way to the back of the aircraft. He might have wet himself, had the aisle been obstructed by a meal cart.

I think most flight attendants know that the rule about using the restrooms in your class of service must be flexible. But I wonder how many of these public urination stories wouldn’t have been stories if a restroom — any restroom — had been available.

(Photo by cheu kiecfu/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • flutiefan

    oh come one, Chris. it’s 100% the passengers’ fault if they pee on their neighbor.

  • cjr001

    As usual, all of the above. Passengers shouldn’t be drunk on flights, but airports and airlines need to stop serving so much. Inebriated passengers shouldn’t be allowed on flights.

    Airlines and their flight attendants also need to stop being so anal about who gets to use which bathrooms.

  • flutiefan

    so Chris’s son was drunk?  just because it was the case with these 2 examples highlighted above, doesn’t mean that’s always the case.  

    no, airlines and F/As are in no way liable if a person decides to pee on their seat or on another passenger. people have to take responsibility for themselves. sheesh.

  • Crissy

    The French actor was told that the bathrooms were locked, but still – you can’t can’t hold it, don’t drink it!

    The skier was too drunk to know he wasn’t in the bathroom – again his fault.

    A year or so ago my 4 year old nephew had to pee after the plane landed, he was crying he had to go that bad.  He was “that” kid.  In this case it was the FAA’s fault for trying to keep us safe.  

    As for your son – yes, the FA’s should use a little discretion in a case like that.

  • johnb78

    You missed another major recent one – I know we’re on the far side of the world, but we have our peeing passengers too: http://www.smh.com.au/travel/travel-incidents/peeing-drunk-gives-jetstar-passengers-a-spray-20110629-1gq8u.html

  • Ira Rosen

    Funny, the story of the nine year old has him being able to hold his water, while the stories of the adults have all of them managing to relieve themselves in a way that keeps themselves dry.  If the issue were availability of restrooms, the adults would have peed on themselves, not others or the floor.  What you have is one well trained 9 year old, and three pigs passing as adults.

  • flutiefan

    THANK YOU, Ira.

    how even 13 people have voted for anyone but the passengers themselves being at fault is beyond me.

  • LarryB

    Grownups should be able to manage their bladders. Really little kids, not necessarily.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Added to story. Thanks.

  • johnb78

    No worries, mate. ;-)

  • johnb78

    I was on an AA flight a couple of years ago, where the “kid needs to pee” version of this one played out. Flight from JFK to MIA. Elderly Hispanic guy who didn’t speak much English travelling with a 3yo boy who was presumably his grandkid. Kid needed to pee, so granddad took him to the loo. Which would’ve been fine, apart from the fact that the plane was *accelerating down the runway for takeoff* at the time.

    Was quite impressed at how attendants handled it, despite my general lack of love for AA – the Anglo attendant who was nearest forcibly directed the pair back to their seats, while waving at her Latina colleague to come over and explain in two seconds why this wasn’t OK. Granddad and kid back in belts almost immediately, attendants back in seats well before takeoff. Smooth.

  • emanon256

    What airline is that picture from?  I have never seen toothbrushes put out in an airplane bathroom before!  I need to fly them!
    And I agree, in your son’s case, they should have just let him go. If someone in Business had a problem with it, then they are just rude.  I’ve been in 2.5 hour Taxi waits at LGA where we are not allowed to get up and then bumpy air for an hour and we are not allowed to get up. Add boarding time and by that point it’s been 4 hours since I have used a bathroom, it’s pretty hardtop hold it that long sometimes, and that’s while not drinking.

  • Sweepergrl

    Anyone with an ounce of sense knows not to drink on a plane. The lines are usually plenty long and an excess of alcohol doesn’t improve common sense or bladder capacity.
    A child is a completely different matter. If your child had waited to the last possible minute (like many kids and adults, too) all it would have taken was a long line at the bathroom to cause an accident. That’s inexcusable.

    I ran afoul of a FA. We had been on the runway for an hour before we got in the air. Due to storms, the seatbelt buckle sign was on for another 2 hours. While I didn’t drink alcohol, I did drink soda and water. When it was obvious that there was no chance the sign would be taken off soon, I just got up and went to the bathroom. The FA was waiting for me when I opened the door and read me the riot act for leaving my seat. I pointed out that no one had been able to use the restroom for 3 hours and I couldn’t wait another couple of hours. She followed me all the way up the aisle loudly complaining about me the entire time. I noticed that the minute she passed a few aisles in the back, several passengers made a run for the restrooms behind her back. There are (rare) times when the FAs need to be reasonable and get over their ludicrous adherence to rules no matter what the situation.

  • BlondieDC

    Really, Chris?  You’re asking if the Flight Attendants are to blame for people peeing on a plane?  You little pot-stirrer, you!

  • Ayngil9

     I have no sympathy for adults who make poor decisions when they’re drunk, whether they’re on a plane or elsewhere.  No one forced that alcohol down their throats.  For a child, I would HOPE the flight attendants would show a little sympathy for bladder issues.

    Chris, would the airlines break any rules by using a Breathalyzer test on anyone who is visibly intoxicated before boarding a plane?  Or do they already do that?

  • Sylviaguarino

    I once had a guy vomit on my shoe on a bus ’cause he had too much to drink.  Was that my fault, the bus driver’s fault, or the vomiter’s fault?  No brainer answer on this.  Skip the drinking and the peeing and puking will not be an issue in most cases.

  • Mel

    No, I’m sorry this is one of those times it’s not the airline or the FAs who are to blame.  All of the incidents you named appear to have one thing in common: alcohol consumption.  That’s solely the fault of the passenger (although I for one would like to know just who the heck gave an 18 year old Vietz 8 alcoholic beverages prior to boarding…was it at the airport he was served? And if so, someone should be held accountable for that, as well…but I digress).  I understand your complaint about the lavatories, having done my time waiting in line but …if I were (rich enough) to sit in First Class, I wouldn’t want to have a stream of people walking back and forth or standing next to me waiting to use the loo there rather than walking to the back of the plane if I paid a couple thousand more for my ticket than they did…But there should be common sense applied.  A 4 year old probably REALLY has to go by the time they announce it and expediency says “use the closest one.” Alas, we all know common sense ain’t so common.

  • Urbancalgirl

    I agree that most of the incidents here are the passengers’ fault.  But there have been times when I’ve wondered if I’d have to pee myself, too.  When you sit on a runway for hours, then get in the air and they don’t turn off the seatbelt sign due to weather, you could go for hours without an opportunity to relieve yourself.  Then they finally turn off the seatbelt sign and 10 people get in line.  By the time you’re at the front of the line, turbulence comes back and they make you sit down again.  Or what about when you have to choose between going to the bathroom or running to try not to miss a connection.  That’s a problem even if all you had was a few sips of water.  

  • Technomage100

    It’s not always the passenger’s fault.  One one recent flight, I observed a first class flight attendent scream at a little girl “No, No, NO” as she tried to make her way forward to use the lavatory in that section (she had been given permission by the attendent in economy to go forward).

    I was also on a trans-Pacific flight where the captain kept the seat belt sign on – in smooth weather – for 5 hours before passengers finally asked the attendant for permission to use the facility.  I can understand during takeoff and landings and rough areas not being able to use the facilities, but the need to urinate is a basic human right.

  • Technomage100

    I agree.  It’s easy enough on short trips to hold it. But start crossing the US or oceans, or wind up with delays, and anyone will have to go eventually.

  • Sadie Cee

    No question in my mind – the passengers are responsible for controlling their water works.  I can give kids some leeway, but adults definitely not.  The incidents described are appalling.  Have mercy on your fellow passengers!

    Lesson learned from our tour guide on a two-week grand tour of Europe in the early ’80s – when travelling, never ever pass a washroom without using it.  Even when there is no urgent call, use it. 

    Fortunately, most airport departure lounges nowadays have so many washrooms that there is never a need to line up.  Escape from the bar a bit early and avail yourselves of the opportunity.  Those adults who know they have difficulty holding it should limit their intake of fluids or wear Depends (am I allowed to use this name?)

    For many years and many trips back and forth to Portugal [:-D], I had to travel in first-class to get the extra space for comfort.  On those flights with only 15 or so seats in first class, the FAs always allow all parents from economy who are travelling with children to use the first-class washroom.  Has anyone ever wondered what washrooms pilots and the cockpit crew use?  On that particular airline, they use the first-class washrooms!

    I hope that in the name of decency that this disgusting behaviour does NOT continue. 



  • http://twitter.com/theinfamousj Jai Infame

    I’m not so much into the blame assigning game, but I do have a solution to the problem.

    You can pee into the airsickness bag. Yes, you’d be exposing yourself, but in a true emergency – which is what each of these sounds like; acknowledging that you can create your own emergency – would have at least saved that poor child’s leg and the carpet and likely would have given you, Chris, a fall back plan for your son even if not needed.

    Airsickness bags are good enough for women to even be able to use them, if needed.

    As a teacher and rider on long car/bus/plane trips, these are the things I think about, if only to make contingency plans.

  • Vivi

    Who is to blame?  Drunk passengers.  No sober person just stands up and starts peeing in the asile or on another passengers (YUCK!).  FAs need to use common sense and compassion when a child needs to use the restroom and allow the child to use the restroom that is open regardless of class of service.

  • Tom

    I blame society.

    Seriously, use to rest room at the airport before boarding and don’t guzzle soda or coffee. And certainly keep the boozing down.

    Although technically, if you include babies and old people, people are peeing in their seats on every flight.

  • Sadie Cee

    To me it looks like the est room on a train, not a plane.

  • Steve R

    I have to say I’m perplexed by the whole thing. I’ve done my fair share of drinking and can honestly say I’ve been pretty drunk – definitely well above the legal definition of intoxicated. I don’t think in any of those cases I would have thought it was acceptable to urinate on another person/in the aisle of an airplane. I can imagine someone getting drunk and then being unable to hold it if they couldn’t use the restroom for whatever reason, yes…but being so disoriented as to urinate on someone else? I dunno. I guess it happens, but it sure hasn’t happened to me!

  • larry

    This peeing thing and other really bad behavior happens all the time on the ground too. I owned a retail store and saw 3 people over the years peeing in the aisle and we even had one defecating in a corner. And this is in a middle class area.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    That’s sick.

  • KaraJones

    Hmmm….Jai, I don’t know if you’re male or female – and it’s an OK idea
    for a man…but the only way a woman could pee in a bag is by pulling
    her pants down (and/or underpants) and squatting in the aisle.  Not an

  • MichelleLV

    I have to disagree with your comparison to a child almost wetting his pants to a bunch of inebriated BLANKS pissing where ever they feel like it.  If I was the parent or victim of these disgusting people, you can bet I would be the one hauled off in handcuffs while the pisser was removed via bag or stretcher.   Exposing a stranger to your own bodily fluids is just inexcusable.  Exposure to pee can spread bacteria and viruses -thankfully a lower risk than blood exposure though- but the possibility is still there especially since one cannot wash off appropriately while in the air.

  • MichelleLV

    Not true in my opinion..who served these guy multiple drinks?    The airlines are aware that drunk people don’t make good decisions yet they continue to serve to the point of being drunk so they should be liable.  This is one lawsuit I’m a fan of.  

  • MichelleLV

    Worse case scenario is your piss on yourself or the floor.  NOT YOUR NEIGHBOR.   

  • MichelleLV

    AMEN.  I’m sure MOST of us have been drunk beyond reasonable thinking, but I have NEVER even considering pissing on someone else when a bathroom wasn’t available.  That isn’t just being drunk; that is a personality flaw exaggerated by being drunk.  My bet these people are sick and disgusting even when not blaming alcohol.   I wouldn’t care if someone peed on themselves for whatever reason but to pee on someone else is not excusable.

  • MichelleLV

    Recently someone defecated in the entrance vestibule of an office supply store during the middle of the day.   I live in Las Vegas but I’m sure it happens all over.    This really didn’t surprise me- I work as a nurse and see everyday how screwed up, self indulgent, and gross some people are. 

  • Jim Zakany

    I don’t drink in the airport, I pee fifteen minutes prior to boarding, and I usually take short flights. But infrequent fliers probably don’t have such a routine down pat and simply can’t “hold it” for hours on end.

  • flutiefan

    how about an airport bar. that’s where the majority of intoxicated flyers get their drink on. and they may seem fine at first. but as the altitude rises, the alcohol level increases. so NO, i still don’t blame airlines nor F/As.
    if you’re that drunk, pee on yourself. not on others.

  • flutiefan

    again, pee on yourself, NOT on your neighbor, not spraying all over the floor in a sprinkler fashion.

  • MichelleLV

    Peeing on someone is ALWAYS that persons fault.  Peeing in your pants may happen for any number of reasons.  

    A person who pees on someone should spend time in jail, be on probation, and pay restitution.  If the FA is the one who served the person alcohol to where they became intoxicated the airline should also have to pay restitution.  I can think of very few reasons it is also the fault of the contributor, but this is one of them.  

    I think serving alcohol on a plane is just idiotic and done so only for profit.  It maybe legal but I don’t think it is right.   A plane is not the place to contribute to mind altering behavior.   You have no way of knowing if someone has taken a drug with it, has already drank before boarding, or is just a mean drunk.   At least on the ground you have resources to remove the person from the situation if any of the above is true. 

  • KaraJones

    I couldn’t agree more with everything Michelle said. There is no good reason for airlines to serve alcohol on planes.

  • Ajaynejr

    Note that if you pee into the air sickness bag you are not exposing yourself any more compared with peeing on somebody else. Heck, you can pee into the air sickness bag while in your seat although you might have to twist around in a manner that requires that your seatmates skootch over to the side a little.

  • Brooklyn

    Peeing on other people?  Never OK!  But it’s not all about alcohol; one of the key ways of preventing jet lag is to stay hydrated while in flight.  Many people don’t know that it’s OK to use the restroom while the plane is loading.  Pilots need to turn off the seatbelt light from time to time to give people a chance to use the facilities (announcing that this is a brief period for that purpose) even during turbulance.  And flight attendants need to recognize an emergency and make an exception.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Wait until the airlines impose a surcharge for toilet on board.

  • cjr001

    “so Chris’s son was drunk?”

    Did I say that in the least, or do you have a reading comprehension problem that you need to twist my words in such a manner?

    There is NO EXCUSE for over-serving somebody. PERIOD.

    As for Chris’s son, I already addressed that, but I’ll do it again, just for you: Airlines and their flight attendants also need to stop being so anal about who gets to use which bathrooms.

  • Sadie Cee

    I don’t remember, but possibly someone else does.  Has there been any call for the banning of alcohol on board recently?  If there ever is, I will support it wholeheartedly.  I am also in favour of stricter enforcement of the rules governing refusal to board people who are obviously intoxicated.


  • Bodega


  • lmm

    I’ve seen toothbrushes on Korea Air on a very long flight to Seoul and then Hong Kong. It’s pretty awesome and helpful.

  • KaraJones

  • Sadie Cee

    Why should other people be exposed to one conducting one’s intimate bodily functions?  How long have there been long distance flights?  Why is this just now becoming an issue?  Does this indicate that there has been a breakdown in society’s standards of public behaviour?

    Let’s face it.  Adult incontinence is becoming more and more widespread.  On terra firma people who have had certain surgeries (I will not be more explicit here but I believe you get my drift) wear protective garments as a matter of course.   

    Rather than males or females using air sickness bags to relieve themselves in public (repulsive to most people), I recommend wearing protective garments.  TSA will need to get on board with this because wearing them should not give rise to more assaultive searches on their part.  Sobriety in flight would not do any harm either.

  • Linda

    Larry, I don’t know how old you are but wait until you are of an age when prostate problems start and then say adults should manage their bladders!  We women also after child-bearing years have problems and need to go and NOW!!  Yes, the airlines need to watch out and not serve drunks or even not let them on the plane to solve that problem but there is money in those drinks and as such that won’t happen any time soon.

  • Linda

    The drunk in your case was the one at fault but this was my experience on a SW flight.  We were waiting in the PHX airport to board the flight to SEA.  There was a 9(?) year-old boy waiting to board also.  Just before boarding this kid vomits all over himself and the area we had to pass through to board.  Now I don’t know if it was the flu or something he ate but they cleaned him up and let him board.  We barely got in the air and he stood up to go to the bathroom and vomited in the aisle next to his seat in the front of the plane!  I asked the FA why they let the kid board and why they didn’t show him how to use the barf bag.  All I got was that they got it cleaned up and some kind of disinffectant stuff put over the area.  The kid and his parent should have been made to rebook their flight to make sure he wasn’t going to infect the full flight of people if it was the flu.  So it can be the airlines/FA fault if they don’t use good judgement.

  • Fishplate

    On a recent (delayed) flight from LHR to BOS, I noticed no end of people getting up to use the lav, despite the illumination of the seatbelt sign.  None of the FAs seemed to have any problem with that.

    Upon landing, we were given permission to use the restroom while waiting on the tarmac for an arrival gate to open up.  We were told that everyone would have to be seated before we could move again.  And it all went smoothly, because there was cooperation.

  • Sylviaguarino

    I understand your point but have a small disagreement with the conclusion.  If it were my child, I would not want him/her flying in the event the vomiting was an indication of a more serious illness.  But in this case, the airline staff did have some responsibility as well as culpability.  Guess with all this peeing, puking, spreading germs and worse I will fly even less…. and I already prefer to drive (when possible), or take the boat or train……

  • KaraJones

    I think Spirit Air was considering that.  I hope they have washable carpets…

  • Weebee1

    The FA’s and Pilot And Airlines are all responsible. There was no turbulance, the seat belt light on and FA’S selling drinks off a cart. Big money now, because they charged for soda also. It’s convenient for the FA’s to keep people sitting. Just flew Alleigiant and this was the case. A mad dash to the restroom after they finished serving. Could have went in my seat, it was so bad.

  • KaraJones

  • Beerpressure

    They Shouldn’t have been so inebriated that they lost control.

  • http://profiles.google.com/avivabrandt Aviva Brandt

    Grrr on the flight attendant who required a child to use the “proper” bathroom rather than the nearest one. I’m glad he was able to make it to the one in the rear of the plane in time.

  • Steviemagid

    I was sitting in a bulkhead seat on a Southwest Airline flight in June, when an elderly man went into the restroom. Next thing I saw was a urine running out from under the bathroom door and heading for the aisle. The flight attendant saw what was happening and started throwing down paper toweling to stop the flow before it got to the seats. After she gloved up and sopped up the mess, she then liberally sprayed a disinfectant all over the carpeted floor where the mess had been. She was definitely uncomfortable with her job, but she did it. I certainly wouldn’t want to have done that job!

  • Chris in NC

    Late to this discussion and briefly scanned through the comments, so I may be echoing what others have said…

    There’s nothing random about the 3 situations as all 3 passengers were DRUNK. There is no excuse for being inebriated on a airplane.

    However, I have been on flights where the captain has kept the seat belt sign on for extended periods of a time (over 2-3 hour spans). Compounding the problem, every time a passenger attempts to use a restroom, the FAs tell the passenger to return to the seat and make a public PA announcement. When the seat belt sign goes off, there is a mad dash to the bathroom. Then passengers are in the aisles, and another PA announcement mentions that no one can congregate around the front bathroom due to security concerns. I’ve witnessed some near accidents with the above situations.

    There are passengers with medical problems that may not be able to hold it for that long. Are we getting to a point where you may need to insert a Foley catheter just to make it through a long flight?

  • Geoff

    1. You are not permitted to be boarded if intoxicated.
    2. A flight attendant is not permitted to serve an intoxicated person.
    3. You are not permitted to bring liquor for personal consumption aboard the aircraft.
    4. The flight attendants in both cases should be severly disciplined.

  • flutiefan

    who is to say the F/A served them at all?  consider this scenario: while waiting in the airport bar, the passenger downs 3 shots in quick succession, chugs 2 beers, whatever.  the alcohol does not take effect immediately.  the passenger boards, acting totally normal. the plane takes off, the altitude contributes to the alcohol metabolizing differently, and now the passenger is completely sloshed. he stands up and pees like a sprinkler on his neighbor.

    so who is to blame?  the only person responsible: the passenger.

  • flutiefan

    furthermore, if the passenger was visibly intoxicated at boarding time, why haven’t you placed any culpability on the boarding agent who let him on in the 1st place? why is that the flight attendants’ fault?

  • Disillusioned

    As an f/a I can tell you that the “bathroom in your class of service” is an Homeland Security directive and we do make allowances wheaten situation warrants. As for drunk passengers I do cut them off and then get cursed out, threatened and told I’m a bitch. Of my last3 medical emergencies 2 were for people who took sleeping pills and then consumed alcohol. If you are intoxicated I can detect that hopefully but there is no way I can tell what meds you have ingested beforehand. One of those passengers was a doctor who passed out at my feet! Another man gave his 18 son his own Ambien midway over theAtlantic. luckily the doctor who came to out assistance was a neurologist… Sincetne boy started having convulsions. I have seen the service industry – not just airlines – go to He’ll in a hand basket over the years. Common courtesy and friendliness has morphed into a sense of entitlement and belief that a purchase means you can abuse workers without limit. When I am the customer I will be damned if I shit all over the people who are being paid to provide me with a service…. Not to take my abuse. And before you ask…. I think my time to quit has come and find a nice job where I work with inanimate objects…. I’m still trying to forget the vile language that was heaped upon me some 10 hours ago.

  • Shawn Mathai

    one of my friends was arrested in Istanbul airport for peeing on the aisle yesterday. He was drunk and passed out. He had no memory of what he did. They let him go with a warning, however the police slapped him 5 to 6 times in the interrogation room. Do you think he will be prosecuted in the US upon arrival? Or, if he is gonna have this incident on his legal record?