Be Careful What You Flush in the Lavatory: The Crazy Reason American Flight 20 Diverted on Christmas

American’s Boeing 777-300ERs have 12 lavatories. The line from one of those lavatories was clogged, and it’s a system connected to three other lavatories. American Airlines confirms four of the lavatories – or one third – were out of commission on American Airlines flight 20 from Dallas Fort-Worth to London Heathrow on Christmas Day.

Flight attendants determined that passengers congregating near the remaining lavatories was a security issue, and the aircraft was forced to divert.

  • They were about 4 hours into an 8.5 hour flight
  • It took 2 hours to get back to New York JFK

Passengers were given hotel rooms in New York. Some were rebooked. American’s Boeing 777-300ERs have a capacity of 304, but fewer than 140 passengers are on board today’s replacement flight with a new aircraft.

This just seems silly. With no working lavatories it makes sense to divert, though I’d hope they would divert some place closer than JFK even if they don’t have as much maintenance capability. (As I write this they’re still trying to isolate whatever got flushed down the toilet and remove it.)

However with 8 working lavatories, on a redeye flight, the prudent thing would be to push forward. If there was a real concern about passengers congregating then make an announcement and deal with those passengers ignoring flight attendant instructions.

Even then the notion that this is a security concern — an elaborate scheme by terrorists to clog the lavatory so that congregating near the galley would be seen as normal, in a ruse to gain the upper hand over flight crew — seems an incredible stretch. Richard Reid will be forever known as the shoe bomber, this would have been The Christmas Lavatory Plot.

Back in September American continued a Hawaii flight with only one working lavatory and that one “was overflowing” after a passenger flushed a diaper down the toilet.

A flushed diaper caused a United flight to cancel in 2014 too. Quit flushing diapers down lavatory toilets, people.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. To be clear we do not know what was put down the toilet that clogged the line on this flight, on those past flights I mention it was a diaper..

  2. Actually, on a flight to London, it was probably a diaper. The sewer lines in Britain are big enough you could flush a baby, so a nappy wouldn’t be a big stretch

  3. There was a piece recently about the sewer-bergs under London which are composed of baby wipes, cooking fat, random detritus, and, um, other solids. Seems that these things grow large — hundreds of pounds large — and eventually have to be dislodged. Sometimes manually.

    Just no.

    Would rather fly 6 hours in coach in AA’s 737Max than manually dislodge a sewer-berg.

    Also, surprised there wasn’t a gratuitous mention of Ben’s Chili Bowl.

  4. There is not enough information to understand how many pax were on board and how many were in premium cabins.
    While there are 12 lavs it is likely they wanted to avoid economy pax cueing in the premium cabins yet that might become necessary. Yet, imagine the negative publicity if they tried to have pax avoid using the premium lavs.

  5. I don’t think there is any security issue as long as people do not congregate at the lavs near the cockpit. That shouldn’t happen as long as passengers use the lavs in their cabin. Perhaps it was what the congregating passengers looked like that caused the flight attendants to become so alarmed that the pilots decided to divert the flight.

  6. @GregR
    Ah, stand corrected. Had no idea where it originated based on the original unedited post

  7. In 2010, we had a bunch of toilets go down on a Continental 767 doing the 7 hour GUM-HNL flight. I forget how many were left working by the end but it wasn’t many. The plane was then delayed in HNL for a couple hours as they unplugged the system (that flight would fly on to IAH back then). As I was jumping on to United to SFO, I didn’t have to contend with that delay

  8. Flight attendants determined it was a security issue? That is insane. People lining up to go to the bathroom and flight attendants make the decision? There are way too many stories where flight attendants kick people off flights for spurious reasons. I wouldn’t trust a flight attendant on this determination.

  9. I had an AA flight delayed 30 minutes this summer because some idiot from the previous flight flushed a diaper. Stop flushing diapers people!!

  10. Isn’t this remarkable: on Boxing Day I flew Ryanair on a three-hour flight out of Malta and absolutely nothing remarkable happened.

    All the more reason why AA is ridiculous. They aren’t a low-cost carrier but they sure behave like one

  11. 9/11 was “an incredible stretch”. Had it been a movie it would have been said by some it was not credible.
    Terrorists are sophisticated and will use unexpected times and methods.
    Like blocking lavs in the rear to get near a cockpit on a day when much of the world’s workforce is on skeleton crew.
    The Monday quarterbacks here were not on the plane. Do you think you have full information about the events on the plane? Do you think it was somehow fun or frivolous to divert from the mid Atlantic?
    This article and everyone here is speculating and being disrespectful of the crew who had to deal with this in real time with their own lives and the lives of their passengers on the line.
    When in doubt, land the plane ASAP.

  12. 1. Lars is an Idiot
    2. on a redeye in November someone other Idiot flushed a diaper and it got wedged..and took out the toilet in front!!

  13. Toilet paper is meant to be flushed. Not diapers or sanitary napkins. Some wipes are flushable but you need to check on the package.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *