What happens when you flush a toilet on a plane?

Ahhh, airplane bathrooms. If only they all looked like the lavs in Emirates first-class cabins, fully equipped with a shower (yes, a shower). Sadly, they’re usually a little more, well, cozy and humble.

The airplane toilet, no matter if it’s in first or coach, is something to celebrate.

Next time you pay a visit to the bathroom mid-flight, spare a thought for James Kemper. In a masterpiece of aviation engineering, he conceived the vacuum toilet – something for which every airline passenger since the 1980s should be thankful.

If you think this is what happens when you flush at 35,000 feet…

…think again! The plane in this video has actually been converted to fight fires – so, that’s just the aircraft doing its job – not a toilet flushing!

The typical household toilet relies on a combination of water and gravity to flush, but Kemper’s invention uses a vacuum to suck the non-stick (just like a modern day frying pan) bowl clear of its contents.

A familiar sight for travelers - and there's that non-stick vacuum toilet! (Image: )

A familiar sight for travelers – and there’s that non-stick vacuum toilet! (Image: brownpau)

That really loud sound you hear when you flush is the vacuum suctioning waste away. Toilets typically secrete a little sanitizing solution during the suction process for hygiene and odor-busting.

Removing all that water from the equation not only helped cut turbulence-induced spills, but also greatly reduced the amount of weight a plane needed to carry.

It may be non-stick, but you still can't put any of this stuff in there. (Image: )

It may be non-stick, but you still can’t put any of this stuff in there. (Image: mr_t_77)

Contrary to urban myth, that ‘waste’ isn’t then flushed out of the plane in mid-air. It’s actually stored in a tank in the bowels (get it?) of the plane. A sanitation crew at the airport empties the tank after arrival.

A fancy airplane toilet (complete with bidet) on ANA. (Image: kalleboo)

A fancy airplane toilet (complete with bidet) on ANA. (Image: kalleboo)


Written by insider city guide series Hg2 | A Hedonist’s guide to…

(Main image: JasonParis)

Article by Brett Ackroyd (1168 posts)

Brett hopes to one day reach the shores of far-flung Tristan da Cunha, the most remote of all the inhabited archipelagos on Earth…as to what he’ll do when he gets there, he hasn’t a clue. Over the last 10 years, London, New York, Cape Town and Pondicherry have all proudly been referred to as home. Now it’s Copenhagen’s turn, where he lends his travel expertise to momondo.com.