I'm planning a 3.5 hour trip. Usually I urinate more frequently than that, but I will not drink many fluids the morning of the flight in an attempt to get to my destination directly.

If a pilot or passenger cannot hold it in any longer and the only nearby airport is controlled or military, is it grounds to declare an emergency?

After all, holding it in for too long is a risk to life. See KDND radio station "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" contest.

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    $\begingroup$ You just call (bed)pan, (bed)pan, (bed)pan. badum, tsk! $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Nov 2, 2023 at 9:45
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    $\begingroup$ There may be a risk to the cabin upholstery, but as long as the aircraft's electronics and other vital equipment are not in danger I don't think this would be considered an actual emergency. But as indicated in the answer that you received you may find some sympathetic controllers who will help you out. Just don't ask for them to roll the emergency vehicles. $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2023 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ You have options $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Nov 2, 2023 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ We had a phrase in ATC, "Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part." Planning a trip longer than the length of your bodily duration seems unwise. I don't think regulators would think it was justification for landing at an airfield that would otherwise be unavailable to you. $\endgroup$
    – RetiredATC
    Nov 2, 2023 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ @RetiredATC I don't like that saying at all. Many accidents are caused by poor planning. Pilots shouldn't be afraid of declaring an emergency out of embarassment- if they're in an emergency situation, declare an emergency and worry about blame later. (Mind you I don't think having to pee is an emergency in essentially any reasonable situation). $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Nov 3, 2023 at 6:02

6 Answers 6


Oh boy has this very nearly happened to me. 3 hour flight and about 1.5 hours in I started to feel the need. I managed to make it to my destination, but I have never sprinted so fast from the apron to the clubhouse.

You're the pilot in command. If you think it’s an emergency, then guess what it is?! I'm not sure we're in mayday territory here, but my comment was half tongue-in-cheek; a pan call could well be justifiable. If nothing else, it'll get you number one in the circuit and on the ground faster.

In the UK at least, you're rarely that far from a suitable airfield. Controlled is not a problem (except Major London ones—unless you have very deep pockets!), military may be—avoid if at all possible. Divert to the nearest suitable airfield, get on the radio, tell them you have a bladder-based emergency and they'll get you in ASAP. Believe me, you won’t be the first. It happens all the time.

Oh, and don't dehydrate yourself too much—that's probably worse for you than holding in a wee for an hour.

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    $\begingroup$ "it'll get you number one in the circuit" - especially if you're passing (over a body of) water $\endgroup$
    – bertieb
    Nov 2, 2023 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ Is it really appropriate to refer to this kind of call of nature as a "pan call"? $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2023 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ I can't help but rudely mention that a packet of high-quality absorbable underwear is ~£20, will hold the entire contents of your bladder remarkably effectively, and not require you to do anything if you're caught short. I know this because I had a spinal injury and had to discover the hard way what it's like to use them. It's really, really not that bad at all. $\endgroup$
    – Landak
    Nov 3, 2023 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ Since most adults don't wear diapers, most people probably don't follow advancement of diaper technologies. It is absolutely nothing like a wet rag against you. Properly made diapers will wick away the moisture from your body to prevent rashes. Ladies will have a little bit more familiarity with sanitary pads. $\endgroup$
    – Nelson
    Nov 5, 2023 at 14:10

Arriving at your destination with wet trousers/skirt is certainly no one's desire, but I don't think that can be called an emergency. Worse comes to worse, you let loose and let the fabric absorb your urine.

Now, if that will potentially disable the aircraft, then it is certainly an emergency. But that's also probably an aircraft that shouldn't be aloft, because that means simply spilling a beverage could bring that plane down.

One thing to consider is that another aircraft may be experiencing a life or death emergency (more serious than wet clothing), and so your situation may receive a lower priority. And given that most ATC traffic is recorded and accessible to the public, the "I really need to wee!" emergency call will undoubtedly get a lot of attention on the interwebs.

My recommendation? Simply buy some adult diapers. They don't cost more than a few liters of aircraft petrol, and will hide any accidental spillage. Plus, they are extra cushy for your tushy, so they make uncomfortable aircraft seats more comfortable. Or so I've been told (ahem).

Or you can get a contraption that fits your man/lady parts and deposits the urine in a baggie. But do you really want to have to explain that contraption to security?

BTW, we've all been in the situation in which we suddenly need to wee. And as humans age, it typically gets worse. And some diseases make it much worse regardless of age. So ATC may be accommodating if you explain the situation and ask nicely for a priority approach.

Finally, as a pilot or a passenger, anticipating one's bodily functions is important. Few (none?) of us can do it perfectly. But keeping logs (ugh, no pun intended) ahead of your trip of what you consume, your medications, the temperature, the humidity, and how it all affects your output can really pay off. Hydration is important, but too much hydration can lead to significant discomfort. I learned this lesson the hard way by trying to watch Lord of the Rings in the center of packed movie theatre while drinking an extra large green tea smoothie. I'm normally a very respectful person, but I expected security to remove me from the building because I think I knocked over several people racing to the loo after that 3 hour horror film. It wasn't until afterwards that I learned green tea is a diuretic. My bad, and my apologies to you 22 years later if I toppled any of you over in that theatre while yelling "Make a hole!" on the top of my lungs.


You are the Pilot in Command. You decide whether something is an emergency or not. Keeping in mind that the threshold is whether the safety of the flight is in question, not the comfort.

If you feel that peeing your pants would cause you to immediately lose control of the plane, then it's an emergency. If, more realistically, you feel it would make you feel gross until you have a shower and get a change of clothes, then it's not. I doubt the FAA or military would agree if you choose the former, so you may have a bad time of it. But that is, of course, better than crashing the plane.

If you're planning a 3.5 hour flight, you should have diversions in mind anyway, in case weather or other circumstances make continuing your flight risky. Be ready to divert to one of these if/when your bladder informs you that making your destination is impossible.



Pilots can declare an emergency in situations when they believe the safety of the flight is compromised. But needing to use the bathroom is generally not considered a valid reason to declare an emergency. Pilots are expected to plan for such basic human needs as part of their pre-flight preparations. Such plans may include avoiding excessive fluid consumption, using the facilities before departure, filing a flight plan with more stops, or even utilizing a bladder relief device.

The declaration of an emergency in aviation is a serious matter that triggers a significant response from air traffic control, emergency services, and other authorities. Pilots are generally expected to use the term "emergency" when there is a significant threat to the safety of the flight or those on board.

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    $\begingroup$ "Pilots are expected to plan for [whatever] as part of their pre-flight preparations." Failing to plan for something that you should have planned for doesn't prevent something from being an emergency. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Nov 3, 2023 at 0:15
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    $\begingroup$ What if you were hungry. I can hear the pilot appealing the one-year suspension saying, "But your honor, I was really hungry and didn't bring any snacks. Hypoglycemia is a real thing, so I landed at Edward's AFB hoping to go to the O-Club to get some eats." $\endgroup$
    – RetiredATC
    Nov 3, 2023 at 4:34
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    $\begingroup$ @RetiredATC Especially for a diabetic hypoglycemia is a very real thing and the situation can be a very real emergency with a very real risk of the pilot passing out. Now, I don't claim that the pilot won't phase consequences while on the ground and I do not know whether such a diabetic can get the required medical class. But in the air it can be a very real emergency, not dissimilar to a pilot who forgot to fill the fuel tanks. $\endgroup$ Nov 5, 2023 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Vladimir Of course I know hypoglycemia is a real thing. It was tongue-in-cheek. We had diabetics working as controllers, but their diabetes had to be very tightly controlled with numerous regular blood sugar tests that were documented for the flight surgeon's review. I'm not sure what level (third, second, or first class) pilot's medical certificate such a person could obtain in the US. $\endgroup$
    – RetiredATC
    Nov 5, 2023 at 16:46

With respect to U.S. operations, I can't imagine a justification for declaring an "emergency" because a pilot or passenger has an immediate need to urinate. It seems that if urinating was unavoidable, finding something in the aircraft to use as a container or even urinating on an available piece of material, shirt, etc. may be an option.

Nevertheless, FAR 91.3 - Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command. states:

(a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.

(b) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.

(c) Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.

The FAA Pilot/Controller Glossary defines "EMERGENCY," "DISTRESS," and "URGENCY" as follows:

EMERGENCY− A distress or an urgency condition.

DISTRESS− A condition of being threatened by serious and/or imminent danger and of requiring immediate assistance.

URGENCY− A condition of being concerned about safety and of requiring timely but not immediate assistance; a potential distress condition.

So, the FAA regulation (FAR 91.3) read together with the Pilot/Controller Glossary seemingly authorizes the pilot-in-command to make the decision as to whether or not an "emergency" (distress or urgent) condition exists.

I wonder, if the FAA decided that the declaration of an emergency was inappropriate and not warranted, what specific Federal Aviation Regulation would have been violated?


You will have a hard time winning the argument that the need to deviate your flight plan is a true emergency if it was reasonably foreseeable.

In short, faking an emergency is a BAD IDEA! Don’t do it.

  • $\begingroup$ Whether something is "reasonably foreseeable" has nothing to do with whether it is an emergency. If you are in an emergency situation, declare an emergency and worry about who was responsible for the development of the emergency situation and what you could have done better once you're safely on the ground. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Nov 8, 2023 at 19:19

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