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Feb 3, 2013

Jetstar's dirty toilets no water flight is about customer care

Courageous reporting by News Limited of water supply exhaustion on a Jetstar A330 brings us to the brink so to speak of a new way for all airlines to screw their customers at the apparently inconsequential risk of mass renal distress


WHO: Guide to Hygiene and Sanitation in Aviation 2009

News.com lifted its game on Saturday by running a harsh story about a Jetstar flight that ran out of water for its flushing toilets and drinking water taps which many of us might not expect to see in a media company which seems to rarely report anything that isn’t in a Qantas group handout or announced at a  ‘special’ media event.

What is puzzling about this story, and the rather terse Jetstar response, is that in some respects it is too harsh.

Aircraft, regardless of operator, or whether they are full service or low cost, do sometimes suffer from malfunctioning plumbing or incompetent ground handling contractors, and if as in this case it happens on a long flight, the airline and the crew need to be judged on how they respond to such misfortune.

The really important question that wasn’t asked of Jetstar is whether or not the jet left Honolulu with minimal and as it turned out too little water for the journey of close to 10 hours duration in order to save weight and thus fuel.

We could almost write the equation:  Min h2O times distance = $$$ fuel saved minus renal failure in x%pax

But we have only to turn to the authority on toilets in motion, Toilet Guru, which doesn’t appear to be related to SeatGuru, the site which can’t even get seats maps for American Airlines, Singapore Airlines or Qantas right, to discover that finessing the water load on airliners is more widely practiced.

Meanwhile, many regional airlines in North America have found yet another way to cut costs and maximize their income: They no longer refill the potable water tanks supplying the hand-washing basins. That saves them money in two ways. First, a little less labor is required to service the plane between flights. Second, that’s a little less weight to carry.

So, in these so-called “lavatories” you cannot wash yourself!

They provide disinfectant hand-wipes, or at least they do now. It’s just a matter of time until they realize that they can leave them out, telling people to bring their own if they want to be at all clean.

It is also self evident that Jetstar isn’t doing this since in no time there would be reports of dozens of passengers relieving themselves in the the aisles and galleys once the toilets overflowed on every longer distance flight it operated.

The Honolulu renal failure express seems to have been a one off stuff up, and the issue is, what will Jetstar do about it, which whatever it is, will almost certainly not be the subject of a gee whiz press release.

Toilet Guru also helps us gain an understanding of how fresh drinking water is apparently used to flush toilets, explaining that the definitely not drinking fluid you may observe on flushing is a cocktail of chemicals and water most likely using an additive made by an Australian company and used widely in the airline industry.

It’s a disinfectant chemical added to the water used for flushing. Anotec, an Australian firm, is a prominent supplier. Their Anotec Blue SFTY-100 is commonly used in aircraft toilets. It comes in containers containing up to 1,000 liters. It combines straightforward disinfection with a catalytic process that breaks down waste solids. A surfactant helps to prevent clogging lines to allow for clean pump-out.

Anotec’s literature describes Anotec Blue SFTY-100 liquid toilet additive as a fluid that boils at 102°C, with a vapor pressure of 15 mm of mercury at 25°C and a specific gravity of 1.07. Its pH is in the range 6.8 to 7.3. It comes in the classic blue and also clear formulations, and they offer up to ten different fragrances if you’re buying in bulk.

For further reading on whatever it was that Jetstar stuffed up at Honolulu prior to departure there is a 71 page guide on line entitled the World Health Organisation or WHO Guide to Hygiene and Sanitation in Aviation (2009) which includes the instructive schematic at the top of the page.

It also tabulates the potable water tankage on a range of aircraft types, which tells us that the A330 has a capacity of 699 litres, which would be enough to make any bean counter ponder the future benefits of water as well as fuel efficiency in calculating just how much of both is needed to get a flight to its destination without completing the journey in life rafts or causing scenes of mass sanitary malfunction not seen in the developed world since the application of late 19th century sewage disposal technologies.


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3 thoughts on “Jetstar’s dirty toilets no water flight is about customer care

  1. ltfisher

    The real question here is whether or not the captain of the flight was [a] made aware of the water situation and [b] if so did he/she approve of the ‘sell water’ action. If he/she was not made aware of the situation then this is a gross omission/failure of Jetstar’s operating procedures and a real CRM failure. If the captain was made aware of the situation, and approved the ‘sell only’ option, then in my opinion he/she is not fit to hold command.

  2. Hairy S

    Why wasn’t the plane diverted to Brisbane? Or somewhere suitable enroute. (Brisbane would have been the most suitable I suspect for flight crew duty times and if necessary a replacement crew.)

    I presume being a “QANTAS group” aircraft (the term being used very loosely) it would have had a product failure guide (normally used for dispatch) to indicate minimum levels of equipment for Pax comfort.

    As a side note, it is not uncommon for the toilets on these routes to fill up near the end of a 10hr flight from the USA (at least on certain twin aircraft) and become unusable due to waste capacity limitations – presumably due to the diet and food quantity being consumed …. The water is pretty unlikely to run out unless incorrectly serviced.

  3. Merve

    Was on a Jetstar A321 flight Melb to Darwin last year. Not a ten hour flight, but a decent one in terms of water/toilet usage. Not long after we took off they said there was a problem with the water and to strictly limit it’s use. Wonder if that was a money saving measure?


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