We were descending into Los Angeles from Chicago, which meant the seatbelt lights were on. Had I not woken up with an insufferably full bladder, this would’ve been fine. But I swear I had near-emergency levels of pee pushing to get out, setting off alarms in my brain to find a bathroom ASAP.
Reader, I held it.
Many flyers would simply disregard the seatbelt sign and head to the bathroom, but not I. Even in the face of steadily increasing cramps and bladder pains, I’d rather avoid any sort of negative attention, especially in front of a crowd.
My fiancée wasn’t much help either. “You know, I’ve heard more people pee their pants on flights than you’d expect,” she told me.
Somehow, it helped. My mind was so focused on whether or not I was sitting in old pee that my body became a steel drum of anxiety. Before I knew it, we’d arrived at the terminal, where I made a B-line to a bathroom. I didn’t pee my pants. I am a big boy.
And yet, I couldn’t help but get the rumor out of my head. According to the Federal Aviation Association, nearly 3 million passengers fly in and out of U.S. terminals every day. Think about how many people are stuck in window seats next to sleeping strangers, unable to hit the bathroom when nature calls. The odds alone must mean there are at least some people soaking their seats in pee, right?
Historically, yes, it has happened, and the coverage would have you believe pee seats are everywhere. There are a few written testimonials of people admitting to peeing their pants, and for the most part, every time a passenger does pee themselves or sit in a seat previously peed on, it seems to make the news.
How common is this, though? Are people just straight-up peeing their pants, sitting in it for an hour or so, then leaving like nothing happened? I reached out to a few pilots and flight attendants to find out.
“I’ve never heard of this rumor,” says one flight attendant, who asked to remain anonymous. “I’ve only had one person pee themselves and it was because they passed out after having a seizure. Never had someone pee themselves because they didn’t want to or couldn’t get up to pee. Maybe kids, because that’s just what kids do.”
“Yeah, I’ve only had kids pee themselves,” adds a pilot in Chicago. “And an old man one time, but that was a medical emergency. Otherwise I haven’t seen it.”
“Technically speaking, I’m sure it happens,” says Adrienne, another career flight attendant. “But I’ve never seen it.”
Hypothetically, what’s the procedure for cleaning the pee-soaked seat? Adrienne says it wouldn’t be taken lightly. “It’s a bodily fluid, so I would tell the pilot, who would tell operations and they would handle it,” she explains, adding that this would mean the ground crew would have to come in and replace the seat cushion. “We wouldn’t just dry it up and expect someone to sit there. I wouldn’t want to sit in a pee-soaked seat, so I wouldn’t expect a passenger to either.”
For what it’s worth, even in the subreddit r/FlightAttendants, where flight attendants offer advice and gripe about passengers, I found zero posts about passengers peeing themselves. If there were proof of an in-flight urine epidemic, it would be there.
“Nope, I wouldn’t say that’s a ‘thing,’” says another pilot who flies internationally. “I have no info on that, and I would know because attendants would have to tell me. But it’s never been brought up.”
So, rest easy. There’s but a small chance that anyone has peed in your seat before you. Since flight attendants go seat-by-seat to clean up messes, there’s a better chance they would notice and have the seat swapped out for a new one.
That said, if you ever end up with a brimming bladder as the seatbelt sign looms over you like a prison guard, Adrienne has some advice.
Don’t feel timid about going to pee when you have a chance during the flight, she tells me. Just pee. Get up and go, “so you don’t get put in this position. And if it’s an absolute emergency, track down an attendant. As long as you’re polite, they’ll be more than happy to help you.”