United Toilet Paper Story Comes Unrolled

June 27--Anybody monitoring airline news recently might have seen startling reports saying United Airlines forgot to stock toilet paper on a 10-hour flight from San Francisco to London on June 16.

Clever editors had a field day with headlines, like the New York Post's, "Bum deal: United Airlines forgets to stock plane with toilet paper for 10-hour flight to London." And a story lead from Gawker.com, "Traveling means inevitably forgetting something at home, but America's most hated airline, United, took it to another level this week."

As recently as Thursday, the story was still being reported. A Sacramento TV news reporter referred to the flight, saying "shortly after takeoff everyone found out there was no TP on board."

It's true that United has had lousy scores in recent customer satisfaction surveys by J.D. Power & Associates and American Customer Satisfaction Index. What's not true are reports of the disturbing, and potentially disgusting, toilet-paper story. At best, they were wildly misleading.

According to United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson, United flight 931, a Boeing 777 aircraft, departed with toilet paper in all nine onboard lavatories, but a supplier didn't stock as much as usual. The crew was aware of it but decided to avoid a flight delay and make do with what they had.

"The crew made the right decision in the moment -- to keep the flight on time and keep passengers from missing connections," he said.

As toilet paper began to run out in four lavs about halfway through the flight, the crew decided not to close them but keep them open and place cocktail napkins in the tiny bathrooms for use as toilet paper.

A passenger took a picture of the lavatory napkins and posted it on frequent-flier message board, FlyerTalk.com, apparently the original source of the story.

When the plane landed, five lavatories still had toilet paper.

gkarp@tribune.com

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