Someone urinated on my airline seat — is this enough compensation?

By | December 6th, 2012

Anything can happen on a plane. Anything did happen to Rita Auth when she boarded a recent flight from Dallas to Tucson.

“The previous passenger had urinated on my assigned seat and the crew failed to notice it,” she says. “I found out by sitting down and feeling the moisture on my pants.”

I’m not writing about this case for the shock value, although I’ll admit there is some. I’m not even going to mention the name of the airline (not too hard to guess) because I think every airline would have handled this one in exactly the same way.

I am writing about this because there’s an important takeaway for all of us: We need to know what we can ask for when something goes wrong, and where to look for guidance.

First, let’s hear from Auth. She picks up her story after discovering the urine-soaked seat.

The flight was full, so another seat cushion had to be brought in from maintenance, which delayed the flight about 20 minutes. I was given a clean seat bottom, blankets to sit on and the offer to have my clothes cleaned on arrival. But those are the only accommodations that were made.

I wrote to [the airline’s] customer service department to complain and insisted that management take some responsibility for this disgusting incident. All I received in return was a letter assuring me that they have strict cleanliness standards and that this issue was beyond their control.

The letter ended with this quote, a ridiculous understatement to say the least:

“Mrs. Auth, again, I’m sorry that the enjoyment of your flight may have been diminished as a result.”

Look, I’ve sat in a seat that had just been vomited on; I have been vomited on by another passenger -— and I feel for her. But there’s only so much an airline can control.

The key to determining what you’re entitled to is the legal agreement between you and the airline, and, unfortunately, no airline contract addresses the cleanliness of its seats. There are state and federal health regulations that might apply, but since the peed-on seat was immediately removed, Auth might have had some trouble filing a complaint, and even if she’d been successful, it wouldn’t have increased her compensation.

What’s she owed? Her airline fixed the problem, offered her blankets and took care of her dry cleaning bills — then it apologized in writing. Common sense tells you it did almost everything it could, short of refunding her ticket.

If this had happened anywhere else (say, at a restaurant or on a cruise ship) then that would be enough. True, unlike those places, you’re confined to a pressurized aluminum tube for 1 ½ hours — but the airline fulfilled its contract to her in every way.

So how did it all end? A few days ago, Auth sent me an update.

My daughter suggested I call customer relations to speak to a manager, which I dreaded because of the inevitable hold time. I had time today and waited one hour on hold before I was finally able to speak to the right person.

[A representative] credited 10,000 miles to my account and apologized for the incident. She also seemed genuinely concerned.

Did Rita Auth get enough compensation from her airline?

View Results

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  • sirwired

    Turnaround times are just too quick to expect the airline to thoroughly inspect each seat between flights. It’s not the airline’s fault that a previous passenger was extremely rude and inconsiderate by failing to report their “incident”, as embarrassing as that would have been.

    The compensation here seems to be 100% appropriate.

    As a side-note, as squeamish as it makes just about anyone feel, urine is pretty harmless; it’s composed of urea (a nitrogen compound that becomes ammonia again after prolonged exposure to air; that’s where the smell comes from), creatine (a metabolic byproduct), and some salts. It is almost always utterly sterile, which is more than can be said for the seat cushion ordinarily. There are even some very strange people that drink the stuff as some sort of new-age nutritional supplement (there are all kinds of people in this world, I suppose…)

  • $16635417

    I would be pretty pissed if that happened to me. (Pardon the pun.) But I can’t think of what else could be done. She insisted “management take responsibility”.

    They brought in a new seat, gave her blankets to sit on and offered to have her clothes cleaned. What else could the airline airport staff, flight attendants and maintenance crew have done on the front line? What else was expected from them? As it was they left 20 minutes late, but she doesn’t indicate if they were able to make any of that time up en route.

    in her letter did she request specific additional reasonable compensation?

  • I don’t have the original letter on this case, only Ms. Auth’s recollection that the airline “take responsibility” for the incident.

  • lost_in_travel

    Probably would be about the same reaction whether it was cola soda or urine – cold, wet, and gross! – but someone else’s pee does raise the YUCK level substantially. Is it just urban legend or isn’t this the reason that Jet Blue has leather seats? Didn’t the CEO once sit in someone else’s invisible puddle on a cloth seat and vow it would not happen on Jet Blue?

  • lost_in_travel

    The only other thing I would want was access to my bag to get a clean pair of slacks and underwear. The blankets would absorb the wetness from the outside and keep the new seat cushion clean, but do nothing for my skin. I don’t think I could have sat in wet clothes for the whole flight.

  • john4868

    After I got past the yuck factor here’s what my take was….
    If it was visible enough that the crew should have seen it, then it was visible enough that she should have seen it prior to sitting down. I’m doubting that was true. In that case, the airline did everything reasonable for something caused by a third party. They fixed the issues that it caused (new seat cushion, blankets & cleaned clothes) plus gave her some airline funny money (miles). I’m not sure what else she would expect?

  • Sam Varshavchik

    Case closed. The problem here is not the airline’s response, which, I agree, seems to be perfectly adequate. Especially after the 10K mile credit.

    The real problem here is the state of the commercial airline industry, where something like this can happen. Not sure if I can express my thoughts properly, but, basically, we’re all going to hell in a handbasket, and a piss-soaked airline seat is our ride.

    Thank you for flying Sardine Can Airlines!

  • Paul O

    The biggest problem that I have is that the airline said, “it was beyond their control.” Yes, the bladder of the previous occupant was not the responsibility of the airline, but a safe, clean, and hygienic seat is. It bugs me that the airline would dare to say that “it was beyond their control.”

    The airline needed to fess up and say that the cleaning and flight crew did not notice the problem and that they apologize to the customer.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Case closed. Yes, this is out of the airline’s control, they made amends and the miles were a goodwill gesture.
    I’ve also sat in some horrible places with some terrible seatmates.
    I had to ride my favorite route in FC next to a mother and her obviously troubled (possibily mentally disabled) son. The kid, who was about 10-12 years old, would throw anything given to him. He doused me with some orange juice. The mother did nothing but say, “Oh, he’s autistic” and watch a movie on her iPad. Headphones on, while her kid was screeching at the top of his lungs.
    Quality parenting right there.

  • MarkKelling

    How did she know it was urine and not simply a spilled drink? Not that it makes it any better.

    I always place my hand on the seat before sitting to make sure it is not wet. Gross if there is something wet in the seat, but a lot easier to wash my hand than change my pants.

    What else could the airline do? Other than requiring the between flight cleaners to sit in every seat to see if any are wet (which would add probably an hour to the turn time) – nothing. She should be happy they only took 20 minutes to swap out the seat. Last time something like that happened to me (on a UA flight) it took nearly an hour because they kept bringing the wrong type of seat cushion to replace the messed up one.

  • WaldoLydecker

    “If this had happened anywhere else (say, at a restaurant or on a cruise ship) then that would be enough.”

    I think that in a restaurant they would have at least offered a free drink or desert.

    Still, I think the airline did enough.

  • technomage1

    I couldn’t figure out what else she could reasonably expect either. I think they did everything they could be expected to.

  • tio2girl

    I agree that the airline really did everything it could in the situation, but I take issue with your comment that she should have seen it. That’s an unnecessary vilification of the complainant. I know that I don’t always (usually don’t) inspect my seat before I sit in it. If it was visible enough to be seen, the crew should have taken care of it beforehand. I’m sure that she will inspect her airplane seat from here on out before she sits, but in the hustle and bustle of getting to your seat, stowing bags, and getting out of other passenger’s way, it is completely understandable that she sat without inspecting her seat.

  • y_p_w

    Fresh urine is almost always sterile unless the person has a bladder infection. However, not so fresh urine is a breeding ground for bacteria.

  • john4868

    You misread my comment… In fact I said I doubted that it was visible enough to be seen (read the next statement after the one you’re objecting to). If it was visible, the OP does have some responsibility for sitting in it. Just like the person that walks into a clearly visible puddle of water and slips.

    Oh and I always at least look at my seat before sitting in it.

  • emanon256

    Any chance someone just spilled a beverage? How would she know with certainty that it was urine?

    I would like to know which airline because I think they went above and beyond what we woudl expect from an airline. The addressed it immediately, they changed the seat, gave her blankets, apologized, and they picked up her cleaning bills. Wow! And she wanted more. Sorry, the OP sounds really greedy in this case.

  • Asiansm Dan

    I will touch the seat on my next flight before seating on it. l still learn something new at my old age.

  • Rebecca O’Shaughnessy

    To be fair, the passenger didn’t notice either before she sat in the seat. If she didn’t see it, it couldn’t have been noticeable to the airline either. And it isn’t something the crew could have easily forseen, who would expect a seat cushion to be urinated on?

  • pradcliffe

    I think that the airline should have given her miles or other compensation without her having to call, but once the passenger called, I believe the compensation was reasonable though not especially generous. The airline did clean up the mess nicely, but a passenger who has such an unpleasant experience and then has to sit in her damp? smelly? clothing for a flight most definitely does deserve additional compensation as a matter of good will by the airline. It doesn’t matter that the airline did not cause the problem or is not “legally” responsible; it was on their flight and they are responsible for making the flight a decent if not pleasant experience.

  • JewelEyed

    False. A *HEALTHY* person’s urine is likely not infectious (though definitely not sterile). You never know who has Hepatitis A or one of a number of other illnesses, however.

  • naoma foreman

    Once a flight attendant spilled a small amount of water on my husband’s sleeve. They gave him a bunch of miles and a bottle of Champagne. We really did not
    ask for anything. It was a surprise.

  • Jane

    The test of customer service in an organization is what they do when something goes wrong. The reaction of the crew on the airplane was appropriate: they did things within their control to make it right and make her comfortable. (In an *excellent* organization, they might have offered her some food or drink for free that ordinarily she’d have to pay for, but on a short flight that might not be an opportunity.) The part where they failed was that she had to wait on hold for an hour to get 10,000 miles. An airline with *excellent* customer service should have a mechanism for a crew to report this type of event so they could give her the 10,000 miles (or something similar) without her having to ask.

  • LOL. Funny. Not only are we required to take before / after photos of rental cars, now we have to pee-check our airplane seats, too? Is someone keeping a list?

  • Julie Northrop

    I have a child with Asperger’s, but he’s pretty good at controlling his impulses. The only time he gets testy is when he’s bored, which is why I bring his Nintendo DS with us when we fly. If my son were to have spilled anything on a passenger, I would have been extremely apologetic and offered to do whatever I could to make their flight more comfortable. That mother should have done more than just state he’s autistic and then ignore her child. Most parents with autistic children go above and beyond if their children do things that are not acceptable. My nephew has PDDNOS, and he can go from calm to angry hysterics in 0.2 seconds. My sister does what she can, but we’ve all seen the stares from others when an issue arrises. Sounds like that mom just has the typical *not my problem attitude.

  • My thought exactly. A beverage spill is far more likely. I might even have been the spiller.

  • DavidYoung2

    The airline did all it should and owes her nothing. Look, the problem is we’re always looking for ‘someone to blame.’ Well. somebody peed on the cushion. They’re too blame, not the airline. It’s not reasonable that they inspect every seat cushion at every stop to make sure it’s dry.

    The airline did what they could. What they did was fair and reasonable. Sometimes stuff happens and it’s not the airline’s fault. IMO, the OP is a sniveling whiner.

  • bodega3

    I voted yes that the carrier did enough. I really think a more appropriate poll would have been; Is This Passenger Being Greedy

  • $16635417

    I agree with you and Raven as well. I sat next to an autistic child recently on a Southwest flight. The mother tried to keep the whole row for herself and her child, but that was the only available seat. (I was moved to that flight just before takeoff from another that was delayed, therefore the last to board.)

    She moved her child to the middle, so I could take the window and commented how she had hoped for the whole row because her autistic child was kept busy by looking out the window. I offered to take the aisle so she could allow him the window and sit next to him, but she said she preferred the aisle and him in the middle. (Way to put your special needs child first!)

    The child didn’t talk but was actually fun to talk to. He was a sports fan and would communicate in other non verbal ways. We looked at his sports magazines together and he was enjoying pointing things out to me in the magazine and answering my questions in that manner. I TRULY enjoyed sitting next to him and entertaining each other…while the mother slept in her aisle seat.

    Point is, this mother put HER needs first. She never commented how she appreciated that I kept her son occupied or even asked if he was bothering me.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Um…methinks the smell would be the first clue. (YUCK!)

  • LeeAnneClark

    The smell of urine is pretty hard to miss.

  • Miami510

    A few observations:
    The airline didn’t cause the problem. What if I were having dinner at Auth’s home and I snagged my pants on the rough edge of an antique table. She then apologized, offered to have the pants repair or replaced. What more should I expect.
    I’d like to know what the 3% who voted “no” would consider proper compensation? There are some people who view any mishap as “their ship came in,” and expect some compensation for all that has been wrong in their life.

  • Rebecca Jay

    That’s a nice story, mikegun.

  • judy nagy

    What a whiner. So the airline made a mistake. Compensation? Somehow I think that someone needs to be negligent first. The only entity that should be offering her compensation is the person who urinated on the seat. It’s a disgusting thing to experience, but she needs to get over herself.

  • pauletteb

    Auth is the kind of customer who increases costs for everyone else. The airline wasn’t responsible for a previous passenger peeing on the seat (if that person was wearing an adult diaper, he/she might not even have known of the leakage). And unless there was an actual pool of urine, the dampness would have been hard to detect. The 10,000 miles was a “please go away” gesture. Unfortunately such undeserved largesse just encourages others to go after what they don’t deserve.

  • judy nagy

    I’ve worked with people of many disabilities with horses as therapy for years. I think that sometimes a parent becomes so stressed out by taking care of a disabled child that they just retreat into themselves for awhile, earbuds, music and a book may alleviate the stress for them. Of course the unseen disabilities are the worst for attracting negative attention in public. You’re walking along in an airport, your kid looks just fine, and at any point he can pitch a fit that makes everybody stare. It’s gross to have orange juice thrown at you in FC, but people could try to have a bit more empathy for an embattled parent. My heart goes out to them.

  • TonyA_says

    That is the best solution I have read so far.You are the only one to address that issue – passenger’s right to travel with clean clothes. If a passenger presented herself for check in wreaking in pee, the airline will deny boarding. So it is only fair for the passenger to be allowed to change clothes if the “seat peed on her”. Personally I find the technical and apologetic discussion about urine really stupid because no one wants to be in the same situation. The decent thing to do is to help the passenger get into clean clothes.

  • TonyA_says

    It is still the airline’s seat and they are responsible for it. They sold it to a new passenger for the next flight. They could have and should have cleaned the aircraft cabin between flights.

  • bodega3

    To be fair on this, you can’t always tell that liquid is on the seat and nothing else has been said by the OP to give clear indicaton that it was urine. Yes, this was unpleasant, but how many times have you found something questionable on a subway seat, a stadium seat, a park bench after sitting down? I am not defending the cleanliness of the plane. Believe me, it is one of my biggest gripes and I often leave my area cleaner than I found it.

  • TonyA_says

    Passenger still bought a dry and clean seat. They need to deliver it regardless. Why accept excuses?

  • TonyA_says

    In the attached article, a similar victim got a refund-

  • commentfromme

    To me the key to the issue is right here: “…. She also seemed genuinely concerned….”. what the OP really wanted was for the company to EMPATHIZE with her, instead of sending a form letter. She wanted to be treated as a human who was put into a revolting scenario and wanted to hear that the airline was also appalled, instead of treating the situation as business as usual. For some reason, prior to that conversation, the OP simply did not feel that the airline was concerned. 10,000 points, some concern and case closed.

  • bodega3

    Not accepting excuses, just observations. Yes, a clean dry seat is expected and when it wasn’t to be, the crew got her one. I always carry clothes in my carry on, so I would have been able to change into something dry. Other than than, what more could they have done? Was she willing to take a later flight so she could get her clothes changed?

  • TonyA_says
  • TonyA_says

    Lostintravel had a great comment -allow her to change. Your suggestion about offering her to take a later flight by deboarding her and her luggage plus use of the lounge is good.
    Of course none of this would have been necessary had the airline cleaning crew inspect the seats and replaced it.

  • JenniferFinger

    It looks like she did get enough compensation-10,000 miles and an apology from someone she claims sounded genuinely concerned.

    Certainly what happened to hear was gross, but what else could the airline do besides what it did?

  • bodega3

    My view is she wanted something for herself instead of addressing with the carrier her concern about the cleanliness of the plane. But this seems to be the ‘new passenger rights’ attitude. I think letting a company know of a problem is a must. If they decide to pass compensation on to you that is great, but if they don’t, you did the right thing with the report and move on!

  • TonyA_says

    I agree.

  • TonyA_says

    I agree that some compensation, like a partial or even full refund, is proper. The lady bought a seat and they did not give her a proper one. The airline failed. Pretty simple but the majority does not seem to agree. To me 10000 miles is pretty useless.

  • KaraJones

    @Judy Nagy – Wow. Aren’t you nasty. The OP was looking for some empathy from the airline, she wasn’t “whining” or asking for millions of dollars or threatening a lawsuit. So I suppose next time YOU sit in a puddle of pee or even a puddle of Mountain Dew, you’ll just laugh and say, “oh gee, too bad the guy who did this isn’t here anymore. I’ll just dab myself dry and get back to reading my book.” You’d complain, too. And you’d expect more than just getting a clean seat after the fact. Anyone would.

    The airline is responsible for cleaning the seats and the seat-back pockets between flights. We all know they don’t do a good job cleaning the seat-back pockets. So now they don’t have to clean the seats either? Yes, it’s possible that something can be overlooked – but when it is, that is the responsibility of the people who overlooked it, whether it was obvious or not. And those people, in this case, were the cleaning crew…employees of the airline. Therefore, the airline is responsible to do what they can to rectify the situation and to make good to the person who got soaked.

    Giving her a clean seat was good but it’s what they SHOULD do – it wasn’t going above and beyond. And frankly, offering her 10,000 points is a gesture – but a pretty useless one. They should have offered her enough points for a free future flight.

    Having a disgusting episode occur doesn’t make someone likely to ever want to fly on that airline again. Having sympathetic and wonderful follow-up customer service would make someone forgive and forget and likely fly with them again.

  • Julie Northrop

    That’s awesome Mike. My son, while shy, will happily engage you if you seek him out. He’s 13 now, incredibly bright, but he does have his moments where when bored doesn’t know how to handle it. I applaud people like you who took the time to get to know the child, rather than to give the mother *the stare & glare*. I see it alot when I am out with my sister and nephew. I know the frustration outsiders or people who are not familiar with autism feel because the tantrums can get tiring and annoying.
    Bravo to you for seeing past all that and having fun with him. I’m sure he and his mom will remember you for a lifetime. :)

  • Julie Northrop

    I think it’s awesome that you worked in that field. It takes a person with a special heart to work with people with disabilities. It is stressful raising a child with autism. My son, even though he has a high functioning form of autism, copes relatively well in the world. Intellectually he’s great, but socially he’s awkward and just doesn’t get social cues (think Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory) which causes some problems. I think the hardest part of raising kids with autism are the stares from others. My sister always apologizes when her son has a fit or does something inappropriate (he’s walked up to strangers in restaurants and tipped their drinks over during a fit), but she does try to rectify the situation. I think more people would have empathy on flights, if the parents didn’t just ignore their child so that others had to do it. It’s one thing if a passenger WANTS to engage the child, it’s quite another if they feel they HAVE to because mom or dad have zoned out. I know the struggle, I live it, but I don’t zone out because I’m stressed.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    How would you feel if this incident happened to you?

  • bodega3

    Did you not read this that the OP stated:

    We need to know what we can ask for when something goes wrong, and where to look for guidance

    I think everyone needs to think about why you complain about something. Is it to bring it to the attention of the powers that be to improve how things operate or is it to get something for yourself? Sadly the latter is what we read over and over and over here. I think what the OP experienced was disgusting and she should be writing the carrier about the way their planes are NOT being cleaned, not what she should get for her experience as she so clearly is stating above.

  • bodega3

    No she wasn’t. She wants to be compensated. As per her letter to Chris.

    We need to know what we can ask for when something goes wrong, and where to look for guidance

  • I think she got a good deal even if it took a bit of time. What I want to know is did she have to sit in her wet clothes for the whole trip? That would be unacceptable to me.

  • KaraJones

    @Bodega3 – No Bodega3, the OP most certainly DID NOT state that. Indeed, Chris Elliott was the one who stated that and he did so as a reason why he was discussing this particular story. The OP did NOT ask what she should get for her experience. (She so clearly did NOT state that above, as you stated.)

  • KaraJones

    I agree with TonyA 100%.

  • bodega3

    You are correct, my apologies but it still makes the artilce leaning towards what can a passenger ask for instead of what a passenger should be expressing in the way of concerns.

  • KaraJones

    @Paulette Baker – Wow, so because the OP sat in a seat soaked in urine, and felt she was owed something for that, you are accusing her of “increasing costs for everyone else”. Soooo…she should have just sat in her wet pants and sucked it up (in more ways than one)? That would have saved us all money? How, exactly, is 10,000 mileage points costing anyone else money? And, with that idea, how exactly is 10,000 points “largesse”? She can’t even use that for a one-way domestic ticket.

    And to address your other comment, if the person who urinated in the seat didn’t know that he/she did so because he/she was an elderly incontinent person, does that make it OK for the next person to sit in it? What could possibly be your point? Who cares why or how someone urinated in the seat before the OP had the misfortune of sitting in it? It’s still the same consequence to her and she deserves a compassionate response from the airline.

  • KaraJones

    Well sure, she is certainly entitled to be concerned and wanting to know to whom she should address those concerns but she is certainly also entitled to compassion and reasonable recompense.

  • TonyA_says

    Wet, very wet.

  • bodega3

    No, she isn’t entitlted to recompense but it would be a nice gesture on the part of the carrier.

  • Lindabator

    So you think she smelled it and STILL sat in it? Sounds like there was an invisible wet spot, she sat in it, and the airline did all they could under the circumstances to remedy the situation. Done deal.

  • Lindabator

    She never claimed to smell anything – and why would she have sat in it if she had?????

  • Kim

    It’s public transportation. Look around any airport and you will see all types of individuals from all walks of life. If you want clean, bring your own Lysol and seat covers!

  • Mel65

    I always look too, if for no other reason than to reach down and move the seat belts out of the way before I sit on them since on every flight I’ve ever taken, they’ve been folded neatly across the middle of the seat. Not blaming the OP here, but other than maybe smelling it (and I’m wondering how one couldn’t!) there seems to have been no way to identify it prior to sitting in it. Gross, but in this instance the onus is for once not on the airline to “take responsibility for this disgusting incident.”

  • flutiefan

    then how did she know if it was urine?

  • rybashka

    The airline did everything that was appropriate. If the OP wants more compensation, she should subpoena the airline for the name of the previous passenger and sue that person in small claims court. (This would probably only work if the liquid was indeed urine. If it happened to be a spilled drink, it would be harder to prove who actually did that.)

  • Cat

    A woman sitting next to me on a flight accidentally urinated on her seat. We were still boarding when this happened. The woman was understandably embarrassed. The captain had her describe her bag and it was brought to her so she could get a change of clothing. I thought that was an appropriate and compassionate response. The captain even thanked me as we were leaving for not making a fuss, not necessary but I thought it was a nice touch.
    I can’t imagine steeping in someone elses urine for the duration of the flight. This flight crew gets an F in my book.

  • TonyA_says

    What great airline is this? Thanks.

  • y_p_w

    I have recently started taking the train a lot, and I have seen rules that state that a conductor can boot out a passengers “Whose personal hygiene makes them offensive”. I don’t know if peeing in one’s pants counts, but I suppose there is sufficient latitude in a conductor’s authority. That being said, I have seen some interesting stuff on public transportation, with the most interesting being raw meat left on a seat.

    This very morning I got my breakfast at a fast food joint where one of the other patrons would meet that description. This customer walked behind me, and I could smell it without seeing anything. I frankly wouldn’t have minded if they had booted the guy out. I have encountered any number of homeless and/or panhandlers, and most actually find some way to bathe and/or wash their clothes periodically. This guy must not have done so in months.

  • Connie

    Mike, its difficult raising a child with autism, one of the scariest things is how most are flight risk meaning they have an innate need to run away or get out of areas. They wander easily and dont see danger like most children do. She probably chose the aisle seat to assure that he would be safe and have access to things he might need in the overhead baggage. She should have thanked you for your extension of kindness to interact with him since most people just gawk and make judgemental comments towards parents with autistic children. It was probably the first relaxing flight she has ever had because of you. It would be nice to have more people like you.

  • Rich Zimm