This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
James Whipple says that after repeated pleas to empty his beer-filled bladder on a recent flight, he finally found relief - with an air sickness bag.
Now, the Sandy man says SkyWest has issued him an apology for his distress.
"It was like I had no choice. I started to urinate on myself. So, thinking the way I thought, I grabbed one of those vomit bags," Whipple said.
"I didn't think I did anything wrong. I could have relieved myself all over my pants. It was almost like that was what she preferred me to do," he said.
On Wednesday, an airline representative apologized to Whipple on behalf of the attendant and promised to send him some travel vouchers.
But a SkyWest spokeswoman also said Whipple wanted to use the bathroom while the fasten-seatbelt light was illuminated. That is against Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
The captain had switched on the fasten-seatbelt light during the hour-long flight because the bathroom was unusable - the light was out.
SkyWest spokeswoman Sabrena Suite-Mangum says that policy is a matter of passenger safety. "As such we expect all our employees to adhere to those federal regulations," she said.
The episode occurred amid renewed scrutiny of how airlines treat passengers. A poll by Siena College in New York discovered that three in four fliers support calls for a passenger Bill of Rights. The poll was motivated by reports of a JetBlue Airways flight that stranded passengers on a New York runway for more than 10 hours last month.
"For a pilot to declare a lavatory inoperable for a one-hour flight is acceptable to the FAA," Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus said.
Whipple's travails began on the evening of March 7. Whipple, who had been working in Boise all day, was dropped off at the airport about 90 minutes before his flight departed. With little to do, he retired to an airport bar for "two really big beers," he said.
Whipple visited a bathroom in the airport before getting on board for the 67-minute flight to Salt Lake. He said he was allowed to use the aircraft's bathroom while the jet was taxiing from the gate. Whipple said the attendant had announced to passengers that the bathroom was out of order, but didn't explain further.
Suite-Mangum said the captain did allow passengers to use the bathroom as long as the plane was stationary. She said the plane was not moving when Whipple was relieving himself in the bathroom.
"We took a minor delay for this," Suite-Mangum said.
When the 50-seat aircraft was aloft, Whipple drank a soft drink. He said his ordeal began shortly afterward.
"I really had to go. I kept asking three or four times, 'may I use the bathroom?'. She kept telling me no. The fourth time I asked, we were in final descent [into Salt Lake], which was her excuse," Whipple said.
Whipple said there didn't seem to be anything wrong with the bathroom when he used it earlier.
"She [the attendant] acted like we were all cattle and she wanted her shift done," Whipple said.
The airplane wasn't full, Whipple said. Nobody was seated next to him, and the closest passenger was across the aisle in a window seat. So he unzipped his pants, covered himself and urinated into the bag. He closed the bag and laid it on the seat beside him.
The attendant, who had been sitting in a jump seat as the plane descended, confronted Whipple. She asked if he had relieved himself. Whipple replied he had.
"I wasn't trying to hide anything," he said.
The attendant then telephoned the captain. When the plane reached the terminal, Whipple was asked to stay on board while the other passengers got off. A policewoman entered the jet and escorted him to the tarmac, where more than a dozen officers were waiting. Some of the officers questioned the attendant. Other police spoke to passengers. Some said they had seen nothing. One passenger said Whipple wasn't abusive or belligerent.
Whipple was taken to a police station at Salt Lake City International Airport. He said he asked to take a sobriety test, which showed his blood alcohol content was 0.08 percent, which is considered legally impaired. After two hours, he took a taxi home. No charges were filed.
Whipple said he isn't placated, in spite of SkyWest's apology.
"I think it's very wrong for them to put a commercial airliner in the air if it's not in complete working order, regardless of whether [the problem] is a lavatory, or a tire, or anything. We are paying customers, and we put our lives in their hands to fly," he said.