Flushing out the truth about travel legends

From getting stuck-by-suction on an airplane toilet seat to discovering that your credit card number is stored on your hotel key car or that the strange smell in a motel room is a dead body entombed under your box spring, there are some strange and spooky stories circulating in the world of travel.

Are they true? Some are.  But which ones?

In Travel legends: Separating fact from fiction, my column on this week, experts help flush out the truth.

For example:

Is it possible to get stuck to the seat of an airline toilet if you flush while seated?

This one has been swirling around for years, fueled by a widely distributed “news” story involving an SAS incident that turned out to be a hoax.

Regardless, we asked Paul DeYoung, a physics professor who runs the online “Ask a Physicist” column at Hope College in Holland, Mich., if it could happen. “While an airplane toilet really does use vacuum to suck the material out,” he doesn’t believe that anyone’s bottom would make a perfect seal and “if there is any gap at all, you don’t get stuck.”

But it’s possible. “Technically, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes spokesperson Tom Brabant. “It has happened in rare cases.”

Bottom line: DeYoung and Brabant encourage travelers to play it safe by making sure to stand up before flushing the toilet in an airplane lavatory. In fact, when Boeing’s new Dreamliner 787 jets start flying, flushing while standing will be your only option: lavatories on these planes have touchless flush mechanisms that automatically put down the lid before flushing the toilet.


What they say:

Guests staying in foul-smelling hotel rooms have discovered dead bodies underneath the bed or hidden inside the bed frame.

The truth?

Sadly, it’s true. In March, police in Memphis, Tenn., found the body of a woman missing for two months stuffed inside a motel bed frame. The woman had stayed in the room when she was alive, but it was cleaned and rented out several times after her disappearance., the go-to site for getting the skinny on “urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors and misinformation,” has long list of documented incidents like this reaching back to the 1980s.

Want to find out the truth about personal information stored on hotel room keys and other travel legends going around?  Read the full column – Travel legends: Separating fact from fiction – on

And if you’re curious about the veracity of other travel legends, send them along; we’ll ask the experts for advice and let you know.

Plan your weekend now: Obscura Day is March 20th

Now here’s an event to start planning your weekend around right now.

Saturday, March 20th, 2010 is Obscura Day: a day of expeditions, back-room tours and hidden treasures in your hometown.

Like what? Well, how about Leila’s Cohoon’s Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri? A family emergency kept me from visiting in person a few years back, but I’ve spent a few hours on the phone with Leila talking about her collection of hair wreaths and snippets of hair from famous people.

On Obscura Day there will be a group tour of the museum, so please send a report of what you see.

Not planning to be in Independence, Missouri on Saturday?  There are dozens of other unusual places and collections you can visit on Obscura Day.  See the list of participating places here.

Can’t wait!!!

Clowns, chimps and, yes, squirrels at the airport


It’s getting sort of silly out there in air travel-ville.

A while ago the folks at Kansas City International Airport (KCI) hired a chimp to show how easy it was to use that airport:

Then the airport hired a bunch of clowns to help promote the economy parking lot.

And, now American Airlines is rushing to remind everyone that the company’s commercials were “squirrelized” long before an inquisitive squirrel horned in on a photo a couple was taking at Canada’s Banff National Park.

The airline is rolling out a photo contest that will award airline tickets to some lucky duck who submits a squirrelized photo, but in the meantime, they’ve made a few squirrelized samples of their own:

squirrel 2

And you thought a naked guy on an airplane was news!

Baggage container sucked into airplane engine

This is scary. According to this news report, a baggage container, or can, got sucked in the engine of an airplane pulling away from the terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Monday afternoon (May 11, 2009).

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

No doubt the folks at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) are glad that they’ve already scheduled their 8th annual FOD walk for this Thursday, May 14, 2009.


During a scheduled 30-minute shutdown, about 150 volunteers will sweep the runway, picking up FOB – foreign object debris – such as plastics, metals, luggage straps, the stray baggage container, and anything else that might become airborne and end up lodged in an airplane engine.

Nightmare at 20,000 Peeps

The Washington Post has posted a “Peeps Show” of the 40 top entries in their 3rd annual Peeps Diorama Contest.  You can vote for your fave. May I suggest #7: Nightmare at 20,000 Peepsby Allie Berg and Jonathan Herr.

“A re-creation of the famous episode of the classic “Twilight Zone” episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” starring William Shatner, the diorama was composed in various shades of gray, black and white (no Photoshopping) to match the look of the 1963 episode.”