The Filthy Poop of Diaper Changes During Flights

Imagine that you are seated in the first class cabin with your companion aboard an airplane across the aisle from a mother and her child. The aircraft sits at the gate prior to departure when that all too familiar odor fills the air.

The Filthy Poop of Diaper Changes During Flights

After taking off from the runway, the fasten seat belt light is deactivated. That is when the mother changes the diaper of her child on the seat itself — and none of the members of the flight crew intervened.

When FlyerTalk member tuono07 imparted this experience, some other FlyerTalk members told of parents who changed the diapers of their children right on the tray tables — but FlyerTalk member dblumenhoff defends this practice: “Changing on tray tables is a necessity. We’ve flown with our now 7 month old on 4 round trips, and he poops without fail every time we fly (the only exception is that when we have a connection sometimes he won’t poop on the second flight). He leaks out about 75% of the time he poops on a plane. It has happened at least twice that the seatbelt sign was on and we had no choice but to change him on the tray table. Obviously we put a changing pad down on top of it, but when there’s no option, you do what you can.”

FlyerTalk member Klimo disagrees: “My 2 year old, when he was still a baby would poop either taxiing or during take off like clockwork. Would usually leak 50% of the time. It sucked, but waiting 10 minutes for the seat belt sign is not the end of the world.”

Other Diaper Experiences Aboard Airplanes

Ahhh, babies and toddlers. You either love those miniature human beings, or you absolutely despise them.

Fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on how you view it — there are FlyerTalk members who staunchly belong to both camps. This, of course, has led to intense debate over the years through literally hundreds of discussions about whether or not babies and toddlers should travel.

It would be almost impossible to write an article which covers everything about babies and toddlers who travel. In fact, that is merely a subset of a broader topic, which is traveling with children. That would include everyone of both the male and female genders from babies to infants, toddlers to adolescents, “pre-teens” to teenagers — each with their own subsets of trials and tribulations they bring to fellow travelers who attempt to enjoy a comfortable flight on an airplane or a good night’s sleep in the room next door at a hotel property.

In fact, there is even an entire forum on FlyerTalk dedicated to traveling with children; but the topic for this article is changing the diapers — or nappies, depending on where you are located — of babies, infants and toddlers.

One sore subject for FlyerTalk members is parents who change the diapers of their babies and toddlers in what may be considered inappropriate areas — such as openly in an aisle seat of the business class cabin on a Boeing 767-300, or in a seat in the first class cabin on a flight to Miami, both operated by American Airlines. Some FlyerTalk members call it disgusting and classless; while others seem to have no problem or issue with it.

The changing of a fully-soiled diaper can be considered even more disgusting when the mother of an infant does not cover the seat on which she changed that diaper — nor did she wash her hands afterwards — just as the meal service had commenced in the business class cabin.

While in the first class cabin on a flight operated by United Airlines which lasted 12 hours this past August, FlyerTalk member VFR2EWR was not happy about sitting near a couple who breast-fed their screaming baby and changed the baby’s diaper not one, but twice.

Interestingly, FlyerTalk members were more bothered by the open changing of the baby’s diaper than they were about the baby being breast-fed. I intend to cover the breast-feeding of infants as the topic of a future article.

The act of changing a diaper is certainly not limited to the premium class cabin on an airplane. Imagine a mother changing the diaper of her toddler in the middle seat next to you in the economy class cabin, where quarters are tighter and space is limited. Would you hold the taped-up soiled diaper while the mother struggled to clean up her child if you were asked?

How would you like to eat your snack or meal that was sitting on a tray table — even if it was in protective packaging — when you know that it was used as a table for changing the diaper of an infant?

One mother attempted to give a dirty diaper to a flight attendant for disposal, when the flight attendant supposedly declined politely but firmly, saying “No, you’ll need to dispose of that in the lavatory.” Is the disposal of soiled diapers part of the job of a flight attendant? Would the situation be different if the mother first placed the offensive diaper in a plastic bag, at the very least?

Perhaps the flight attendant should be responsible for the proper disposal of a diaper. A flight to New York was delayed in Tampa due to a baby diaper lodged in the toilet of a lavatory. The delay lasted greater than an hour so that the toilet could be unclogged.

Is it the fault of the parent when he or she changes the diaper of a child at a bulkhead seat when granted permission by the flight attendant after asking?

Mothers are not the only parents who change the diapers of their children in empty seats. A fatheron a regional jet airplane operated by United Airlines during a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle changed the diaper of his son in an empty seat — and due to their size, the interiors of regional jets can quickly be enveloped with the unpleasant smell of the soiled diaper.

The disgust for the conspicuous changing of the diaper of a baby or toddler is not confined to within an airplane. Imagine eating at the food court at the Toronto Zoo — only to have a mother changing the diaper of her baby nearby on one of the seats in the cafeteriaUnsanitary , inconsiderate and gross are some of the adjectives used by FlyerTalk members to express their disgust at the practice of changing a soiled diaper in the vicinity of where people are consuming food.

There are those who say that those adorable babies and toddlers simply “do what they do” and cannot yet control themselves the way older children and adults — well, most adults, anyway — can; while others argue that if that is the case, then leave your babies and toddlers at home, as they have a right to enjoy travel without having to be subjected to the sight and odor of freshly discharged fecal matter.

Some might argue that the odors emanating from aircraft lavatories can be far more pungent than what a baby can produce — but then again, should that not be the appropriate place where a baby or a toddler should have his or her diaper changed?

Parents might either believe that they are being as discreet as possible when changing the diaper of their child at the seat on an airplane — or perhaps they may not believe that they are being noticed or seen, similar to that inexplicable phenomenon of a person picking his or her nose while in a car waiting for the traffic light to change. Maybe there is a plausible reason as to why the parent is unable or unwilling to take his or her child to the lavatory to change that odoriferous diaper — such as being required to stay in your seat while the Fasten Seat Belt sign is illuminated, perhaps. If so, I would like to hear those reasons to present all sides of this issue fairly. Please post them in the Comments area below.

In a broader sense, this appears to be all about a matter of responsibility, awareness and respect for fellow passengers. While there are circumstances and situations which may necessitate a parent to travel with a baby or toddler — and while there are certain things a parent cannot control with regard to his or her baby or toddler — there are actions which parents can take to ensure that any disruption which their may child is mitigated or eliminated. In this case, that could include the following suggestions:

  • Use an appropriate place to change that diaper. Unlike years ago, many lavatories and rest rooms are now equipped with tables for the specific purpose of changing the diaper of the little one. Use it.
  • Ensure you have an adequate amount of the proper supplies. This includes diapers; a soft cushion such as a small blanket, pillow or pad; baby powder and other items which may help reduce the offensive odor while simultaneously ensure the comfort of the baby or toddler; cleaning supplies; plastic bags — preferably ones which can be sealed — in which used diapers may be placed for disposal purposes; and any distractions which could help reduce any impediment of the enjoyment of fellow travelers and diners, such as a pacifier or a favorite toy.
  • Change the diaper of your child before you board an airplane. This may be difficult to achieve successfully, but it is possible. This is one tip imparted by FlyerTalk member GoldenRetriever when FlyerTalk member Nassau considerately asked for advice from fellow FlyerTalk members about changing the diaper of a baby aboard an airplane.
  • Choose a flight with the least amount of impact on fellow passengers. In addition to this being difficult to predict — as well as other factors such as the cost of a flight — this can be difficult to achieve but also possible to accomplish successfully. For example, if you can book a reservation on a flight when you believe that the baby or toddler will most likely sleep during the entire flight, this could minimize the need to change a diaper during a flight — or, at least, the amount of times a diaper has to be changed during a flight.
  • Have a small offering to your fellow passengers, just in case. If for some extreme reason you are unable to minimize the disruption of the travel experience of your fellow passengers, at least offer them a little something for their trouble — a drink coupon or a chocolate bar, for example — to acknowledge that you are indeed aware of them and the possible effect on their travel experiences. This action may not excuse you from changing that diaper in an inappropriate area in the minds of the passengers — but at least perform a gesture of good will of some type so that you do not appear to be completely ignorant of the fellow passengers.
  • Ensure that the used diaper is properly disposed. Use the aforementioned plastic bags in which to place used diapers just in case you cannot immediately dispose of them properly — and close the plastic bags to reduce the odor of the diaper from affecting fellow passengers. Ditch the plastic bag containing the used diaper in a proper receptacle — and if that diaper contains solid fecal matter, first dump that fecal matter in the toilet and flush it before disposing of the used diaper in a proper receptacle.
  • Wash your hands after changing diapers. For obvious reasons, this should go without saying — right?!?

Summary

Those are rather mild stories compared to this experience pertaining to the “real poop” of babies, toddlers and flying aboard a airplane operated by Air France during a flight — an experience where Dia Adams warned that “if you’re never going to have kids, if your kids are over 5, or if you just don’t want to know what is coming, PLEASE skip this post!”

The bottom line — I was going to say no pun intended but I changed my mind like a parent changes a diaper — is that the days of family members living within a short drive of each other seem to be gone; and the Internet has increased the accessibility of travel and destinations for families. Grandparents, for example, who live far away and cannot travel due to health reasons should still have the opportunity in interact with their grandchildren in person — and parents traveling with babies and toddlers help that opportunity become a reality. However, it is the responsibility of the parents to ensure that they do not contribute to the deterioration of the travel experience of their fellow passengers, as well as the dining experience for their fellow diners — and completely attempt to ensure that the experience of changing the diaper of a child as inconspicuously as possible can go a long way in keeping the travel and dining experience as positive as possible for all.

I do not believe that anyone would argue that babies can be unpredictable — and if an emergency changing situation arises during a time when the fasten seat belt sign is illuminated for a long period of time, I can somewhat understand the inclination for a parent to stay at his or her seat and change the diaper of the baby…

…but even with a changing pad, the process of changing the diaper of a baby on a tray table on which passengers eat food can be considered unsanitary. Lavatories aboard an airplane are usually equipped with a table specifically designed for changing the dirty diapers of babies — such as the one shown in the photograph at the top of this article.

If the baby has soiled his or her diaper while passengers must remain seated with their seat belts fastened, try to wait a few minutes first before considering changing the diaper right there at the seat — but not too long that the baby could potentially develop diaper rash. If necessary, ask a member of the flight crew if you can take the baby and use the lavatory while the fasten seat belt sign is illuminated.

Parents are sometimes unable to be in complete control of situations where a diaper must be changed immediately aboard an airplane; but for all other times: please use the changing table in the lavatory.

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

6 thoughts on “The Filthy Poop of Diaper Changes During Flights”

  1. Myles says:

    You hope there is no infant in your first cabin. Otherwise you wish you have taken a dozen bottles of sanitizer. No, not for the infant but for you..so you can shower yourself a bit to feel clean and mild downs the odour in the cabin. C’ est la vie..we need those children to pay our pensions and perhaps look after us.

  2. Katherine says:

    Every one of us was a baby. Everyone poos. Decent human beings have pity on parents, & alcohol wipes to offer, or to use themselves. If you’re in an expensive class then (a) it’s less bad for you than in steerage and (b) you should have some class yourself and at least politely ignore that which you find distasteful, if you can’t actually be of some use.

  3. Benji says:

    Flyertalk is filled with people who can’t make babies due to one thing it another and are therefore against everything baby. Rule #1 of being a traveling parent: Ignore all anti baby ranters on ft

  4. HFA says:

    I’ve flown 80K+ miles with my toddler in Economy to international First. Not once have I changed the diaper on seat out of consideration for others, and the baby has only had one episode of diaper rash in her entire 2 years of life. So, yes, babies do what they do but parents are in control of how they deal with the situation.

    That said, I have 2 points of contention. First – and foremost – I do not understand the suggested idea that breast feeding ought to be considered indecent. For those that are strictly breastfed, that is the only food available to them. It is as if to say an adult eating on the plane is distasteful. You may be able to bring a bottle of breast milk, but that typically needs to be chilled or frozen for travels. And during take off and landing, it is nearly impossible to have it warmed up. Furthermore, the comfort that the physical breast of the mother offers is totally unparalleled – when my toddler was an infant, she would simply fall asleep for takeoff and landing because of it. I do side with the idea that a mother should use a cover when breast feeding, but I am personally not disgusted if she doesn’t use one. And if you feel uncomfortable seeing the bare breast, you should politely ask the mother to cover it with appropriate reasoning while remaining civil. Many decent humans – including patents – are happy to comply if approached with respect.

    The second point is about picking a flight time during which the child may sleep. Speaking for our daughter specifically, this used to work when she was an infant unaware of her surroundings. Now it is far easier to ensure good nap/sleep on ground and travel during her awake time. Otherwise she will not sleep when she is supposed to, leading to a major breakdown on board. Perhaps other toddlers are easier to keep on schedule even aboard the plane, but that just hasn’t been the case with us.

  5. Jim says:

    It sounds like if more people just used common sense there would be less problems.
    I know Delta employees can’t put a child under 6 in 1st class. Most airlines do have a family (baby area) but seldom do they end up there?

    1. Myles says:

      I do not care what some people think..I am being honest and not a hypocrit like some here! I would like to see you in such situations and how you handle yourself honestly. It is easy to write of how much respect and understanding you have..but sincerly you are hating yourself for being in a situation where a baby cry for a long periode of time and smelling its poo!

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