There’s having diarrhea on an airplane. There’s having diarrhea in an airplane. Then there is having diarrhea “all the way through” an airplane. It was this last situation that forced Delta Air Lines Flight 194 to do an unexpected U-turn—or perhaps a eww-turn—this past Friday.
That Airbus A350 airplane was carrying 336 passengers from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to Barcelona, Spain, on September 1. But soon after take-off, one of these passengers began suffering what was eventually described as “an onboard medical issue” by a Delta rep. That passenger reportedly experienced a bout of diarrhea. But this wasn’t just about a little diarrhea. This was about a lot of diarrhea—so much that it left a lot of the cabin lined with poo.
And such a large amount of diarrhea isn’t something that some scented candles and incense can cover up easily. In fact, the following tweet (or perhaps X) included what was described as a Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) recording with a pilot saying, “It’s just a biohazard issue, we had a passenger who had diarrhea all the way through the airplane so they want us to come back to Atlanta,” about two hours into the flight when the plane was still flying over Virginia:
To give you an idea of the extent of this diarrhea episode, someone posted on Twitter (or X) a video of what appeared to be the aftermath of the incident. It showed the main aisle lined with paper towels and other paper products covering up in part a brown liquidly substance.
Yeah, when there is “diarrhea all the way through the airplane,” it’s probably not a good idea to go through with a lengthy trans-Atlantic flight. Diarrhea by definition is hazardous waste material. That’s why no one typically says, “Oh, don’t worry about that diarrhea on the carpet. I’ll clean it up later.” Anytime you see diarrhea anywhere, it’s best to clean it up and disinfect everything around it as soon as possible. That’s because such poop can contain a variety of different microbes including any pathogens that may have caused the diarrhea in the first place. And a number of different disease-causing pathogens can spread from one person to another via the fecal-oral route, which is the medical way of saying poop-to-mouth.
The video of the aftermath is rather explosive evidence that the passenger was probably suffering what’s called “explosive diarrhea.” If you’ve ever had diarrhea, you’ll know that it is when your bowel movements are more liquid than normal or occur more frequently than normal or both. Although you typically don’t have to wonder, “Hmm, am I suffering diarrhea, I’m not so sure,” the World Health Organization (WHO) does officially define diarrhea as have three or more loose or liquid stools in a day in case you need to count you stools.
Explosive diarrhea is diarrhea in hyperdrive. It occurs when your intestines are spasming or contracting so strongly and frequently that stuff is being forced into your rectum at a rate and amount beyond what your rectum can really handle at a time. When your rectum effectively says, “bruh,” it can end up expelling all of its contents—including stool, liquid, and gas—with considerable force. Hence, the term explosive.
Now, there are a number of different possible causes of explosive diarrhea. This includes bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli, viruses like rotavirus and norovirus, and parasites like Giardia lamblia and cryptosporidium. Intestinal diseases like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease can lead to explosive diarrhea as well. Then there are medications such as certain antibiotics, heartburn and acid reflux medications, and chemotherapy agents that can result in such severe diarrhea. Allergies and food intolerance are possible culprits too.
Some of these infectious pathogens can be very difficult to remove, inactivate, or kill from surfaces. Norovirus, for example, is a Freddy Krueger of viruses, able to survive many different standard cleaning agents. Even when a surface looks cleaned, enough norovirus particles can still remain to infect anyone who touches the surface and then later does the hand-to-mouth thing. That’s why it’s best to use a bleach solution to kill any possible norovirus. Therefore, it was important for the cleaning crew to take its time to thoroughly disinfect the plane. The flight did eventually take off again after about an eight hour delay and reach its destination on Saturday at 5.16 p.m. Barcelona time.