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Butter and a Maxi Pad: Flight Attendants Turned MacGyver at 35,000 Feet

Butter and a Maxi Pad: Flight Attendants Turned MacGyver at 35,000 Feet

(Illustration: Ryan McCullah)

Last week we taught you some airline slang and industry lingo and the week before gave you 15 tips to keep sane while flying — attention, passengers, this is Confessions of a Fed-Up Flight Attendant, a Yahoo Travel series where “Betty” describes the harrowing, real-life situations she and her comrades in the sky face every day, 35,000 feet away from a foot massage and premium whiskey. You think you’ve got it bad when your in-flight entertainment conks out, the Pixie-Stix-addicted kid behind you mistakes the back of your chair for a vertical trampoline, and the plane runs out of “Good Morning Sunshine” cheese boxes? That’s child’s play.

Sometimes on a plane we have to use our wits to find solutions to problems that arise with limited resources just like MacGyver used to on the TV show. Ever jerry-rigged a stuck door with butter? Become a fashion stylist — for babies — at 35,000 feet? Read on!

airplane bathroom door

If these doors could talk… (Photo: Getty Images)

Problem: Stuck Door
Solution: Butter and a Maxi Pad

One day the bottom of the first class lavatory door was sticking, and it was sticking really badly, so that one person on the inside had to coordinate with another person on the outside — one pushing, one pulling — in order to get the door open. Needless to say, it was really inconvenient.

What we really needed was some lubricant, but we don’t carry any WD-40 on board. So I started thinking of what he had available that would act as a lubricant in a pinch. It was a morning flight, and we breakfasts to serve…. Butter! I didn’t want to just spread it on the floor of the bathroom for fear someone would slip, and then we’d have a whole new problem.

So I got a maxi pad out of the lav. I spread the butter all over the maxi pad, peeled off the adhesive strip, stuck it to the bottom of my shoe, and then used my foot to rub the door jamb back and forth. I kept on rubbing in order to blot up most of the butter. And, sure enough, it did the trick!  When we de-planed and a new crew came on board, I told an incoming flight attendant, “If the door sticks, just put butter on a maxi pad!” Yes, they looked at me like I was nuts.

WATCH: We Really Move Our Tail For You! (A Continental Slogan from the 70’s)   

Problem: Dripping Air-Conditioner
Solution: Maxi Pads

When I was laughing over the butter story to a male flight attendant, he told me he uses maxi pads all the time to catch the drips from the air conditioning units that trickle down through the overhead bins and drip on the passengers. He told me, “People give me the strangest looks when they see me coming out of the lav with maxi pads in my hands!”

Related: 14 Airport Hacks to Help You Breathe Easier on Your Next Flight

baby in diaper on airplane

Can you make me a diaper? (Photo: Getty Images)

Problem: No Diapers
Solution: Maxi Pads (do you sense a trend?)

People constantly pack things in their checked luggage that they really need to pack in their carry-on — like diapers. (Some parents are super smart.) Usually when that happens, I look for another parent who’s traveling with a baby and ask if they have a spare diaper. This time, there were no other babies on board. So I pulled the synthetic pillowcase off a pillow and ripped two holes for the legs in the bottom of it. I put a maxi pad in between the leg holes — and voilà — it worked really well. It’s amazing how many uses we find for them.

Problem: Soiled Baby Clothes
Solution: Pillowcase

When a toddler threw up all over himself and his shirt, the parents didn’t have any spare clothing with them. So I pulled a pillowcase off a pillow, poked a hole for the head and two for the arms, and that kid looked downright stylish in his pillowcase shirt!

Related: Airplane Food that Won’t Make You Gag—No, Really!


vodka bottles airplane

Vodka to the rescue! (Photo: Mike Carroll/Flickr)

Problem: Toxic Bathroom
Solution: Vodka

And no — the solution wasn’t to drink. (Though I wish I could have.) Here’s the scene: Flying from Los Angeles to Kona, an older man was in the first class lavatory for a really long time. When he finally exited there was a foul smell, but that unto itself is not out of the ordinary.

My male flying partner, who was investigating what another passenger called an “unholy mess,” bending over and saying “I think I may throw up!” after looking in the lav — now that’s unusual.

I looked inside and was equally horrified to see number two smeared on the toilet, on the seat, and all over the door. Now I only had a few choices at 35,000 feet. I could lock off the bathroom, but it’s a 5-hour flight and on the 757, the other lavatories were all the way in the back of the airplane. Since there’s only one aisle that’d mean when we were out with the carts no one in the front of the airplane would have access to a lav. This didn’t seem fair to the passengers.

So I took some deep breaths, got latex gloves out of my bag, and hesitantly entered the “brown zone” — how in the world did he get poo everywhere?! I assumed he had an accident in his pants and was trying to clean himself up and kept getting it everywhere, or he was really disturbed and was doing some sort of painting from hell. I was in there a long time. It was revolting. And in the end I used vodka to sanitize the area.

Related: The 14 People You Don’t Want to Sit Next to on a Plane

It’s instances like this you may never know are happening while you’re settled in watching your TV. So the next time we’re saying thank you as you exit the airplane… maybe you should say “thank you” right back!

Hope your flight is fecal free!


Stay tuned until next Monday for another installment of Confessions of a Fed-Up Flight Attendant.

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