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Miscellany

Where Does Poop Go on a Plane?

You know you want to know! We’ve got the answer to the question you’re too embarrassed to ask.

Time was, in the golden age of railroad travel, you could go down the aisle to the toilet, use it, and flush it, and when the little cup at the bottom of the toilet opened, you could see the roadbed running by underneath the train. Yes, the toilet’s contents got dumped right onto the tracks, and yes, that’s why the railroads all had signs that read, “Please do not flush the toilet while the train is standing in the station.”

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That’s not what happens on planes. So here is the answer to that oft-asked question, “What happens to human waste on airplanes?”

Airlines use the same basic systems that RVs and Porta Potties do: chemical toilets. The airline versions are a bit more high-tech, but what you leave behind goes into a tank filled with a chemical solution. When the plane lands, the ground crew hooks the airline’s tank to a service vehicle, empties it, and sends the service vehicle to a waste-disposal site. The tank cannot be emptied while the plane is in the air.

You may have read some reports about folks in Leicester who saw blue ice falling from the skies. Apparently, the frozen blue waste was a chemical solution that leaked from the plane. But fear not: The leak likely came from the plane’s supply tank, not the toilet. Airplanes don’t dump waste mid-flight.

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(Photo: David Lentz/Getty Images)

By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.

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