What happens when you flush a toilet on an airplane?

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Next time you pay a visit to the WC mid-flight, spare a thought for James Kemper.

This is what happens when you flush at 35,000 feet…

…er, just kidding.

Next time you pay a visit to the WC 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 for.

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

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

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

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


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

(Main image is by JasonParis)

What happens when you flush a toilet on an airplane? was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Brett Ackroyd
Author: Brett Ackroyd (631 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.