Inoperative Lavatories Leads to SWISS Airbus A330 Diversion

A SWISS Airbus flight was diverted back to Zurich on 20th December 2019 before it was able to complete its transatlantic flight. The issue? Inoperable bathrooms which were detected after takeoff.

SWISS HB-JHN in the air
HB-JHN was forced to return to Zurich after issues with its toilets. Photo: Getty Images

A rather long-winded bathroom break

On 20th December 2019, SWISS International Airlines’ flight LX-66 was diverted back to its takeoff destination after a passenger reported that the lavatories were not working. The Airbus A330-300 registered HB-JHN, was on its way to Miami from Zurich when the report came in. Flying at 35,000 feet and having just reached the Atlantic Ocean the aircraft was forced to return to Zurich where it had left just three hours earlier.

But this was no simple flight back. It took three hours for the aircraft to fly back to Switzerland resulting in six hours of travel time essentially to nowhere. Presumably, the incident wasn’t serious enough to warrant an emergency stop at a closer airport. However, it was serious enough that crews did not think the remaining seven hours could be flown without bathrooms.

According to the Aviation Herald, back in Zurich the aircraft underwent a three and a half hour grounding before it was back in operation. Despite delays, the aircraft returned to the sky nine and a half hours later and safely reached Miami with delays.

How serious are broken toilets?

Aircraft toilet
How serious are broken toilets? Photo: Getty Images

It’s unclear at the moment whether all lavatories on the aircraft were broken and the specifics of the issue is also not evident. It’s also not clear why the issue was not detected earlier. One passenger onboard the aircraft asked SWISS for clarity on the issue via Twitter but the airline was unable to provide any further information.

But as to the severity of the incident, it was enough to divert the aircraft. We saw a similar incident happen with American Airlines in September.

The issue is namely to do with customer discomfort but also, in this instance, the aircraft was coming from its main hub. It’s likely that it would have been able to get better maintenance in Zurich than if it had continued to Miami. It’s likely that work was done faster and further delays evaded.

But why wasn’t this issue detected earlier? It could have saved a lot of fuel and passenger inconvenience. That’s providing that the toilets were not broken in-flight.

Onwards and upwards

But regardless of this minor delay, everything was sorted in the end and SWISS will not be dwelling on this finer detail. It’s recently announced some big news. It will be expanding out of Geneva to six new destinations for its summer schedule next year. The network expansion will include flights to Greece, Spain, and Tunisia.

Swiss A330-300 taking off
Swiss has now got a more extensive network. Photo: Raptor95 via Wikimedia Commons

Do you think that the returning the Zurich was the correct decision? Have you ever been affected by bathroom issues on a flight? Let us know in the comments below.