Fly the feces-free skies of China Southern

Few things have provided more grist for Imagethief’s gripemill than Chinese airlines. A simple search of this website for various permutations of China+Airline+Travel will make that abundantly clear. In part this hostility is unfair. Chinese airlines are every bit as good as American carriers –although I have heaped scorn on those as well– and in some ways they are distinctly better. For instance, I would recommend Chinese carriers to anyone with a fetish for being waited upon by attractive Asian women as opposed to a fetish for being snarled at by hostile, matronly Americans. Not that no one has that particular fetish, its just that its somewhat more eccentric and self-destructive, like a fetish for self-mutilation, blender worship or Paris Hilton.

And of course, Chinese carriers are every bit as successful as their American counterparts, which is to say they are losing money hand over fist. That’s why I was constipated to readin a Reuters news story (quoting Xinhua) about some of the money-saving steps recently suggested by China Southern Airlines:

A Chinese airline has calculated that it takes a litre of fuel to flush the toilet at 30,000 feet and is urging passengers to go to the bathroom before they board.

As Chinese airlines come under increasing pressure to cut fuel expenditures, China Southern’s latest strategy is to encourage passengers “to spend their pennies before boarding the aircraft”, Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday.

“The energy used in one flush is enough for an economical car to run at least 10 kilometres,” Captain Liu Zhiyuan, who flies regularly between Hangzhou and Beijing, was quoted as saying.

Citing a survey by the company’s logistics department, Liu said carrying one kilogram of items such as blankets and pillows by air for one hour uses 0.2 kg of fuel.

“This means the blankets and pillows on board the aircraft eat up 60 tonnes of fuel every day. If each seat is loaded with three 450-gram magazines, another 60 tonnes will be consumed,” Liu explained.

Well, having taken many flights on China Southern over the past few years, I can tell you that many passengers already consider flushing optional, so it’s debatable how much value such a program might have. I also think that the focus on flushing perhaps ignores the root of the problem, which is that according to this article, airplane toilets are some of the least energy efficient devices on the planet, on a part with M1-Abrams tanks and arc lights. Airplane manufacturers may want to get cracking on this (so to speak). After all, if my home toilet required a liter of kerosene for every flush, I’d just use half the kerosene to burn our daily household quota of excreta in our apartment building’s courtyard (everyone loves a bonfire) and sell the rest on the aviation fuel black market for cold, hard cashola.

But as the article makes clear, cracking down (again, so to speak) on online flushing is really only part of the solution. The real triumph would be to encourage people not to carry any bodily wastes on board the airplane at all. In fact, I think the “pillows and magazines” in this article are really offered as a gentle metaphor for the collection of excreta sloshing around inside of each of us. After all, to the airline, the accumulated fecal matter fermenting in your bowel is just another form of carry-on luggage, and one that they have no control over. And nothing chafes an airline more than the thought that you might be gaming their system. Turds are just the beginning. Next thing you know people will be wrapping their duty free purchases in condoms and swallowing them to evade carry on limits.

Let’s look at this scientifically. Doing some quick research, I note from a highly credible source, the movie Beverly Hills Cop, that the gut of the average American fifty-year-old contains about five pounds (2.25 kilos) of undigested red meat. Chinese are not Americans, but they are eating an increasing amount of red meat so let’s use American fifty-year-olds as proxies for the entire Chinese population and go with that number. It’s this spirit of daring scientific inquiry that led to such breakthroughs as cold fusion and Dr. Hang Woo-suk’s cloning program at Seoul National University. Going further I also note that China Southern is one of the airlines that has ordered A380s, which can carry up to 500 passengers. After performing some complex and rigorous calculations far beyond the reach of lesser cortexes, I discover that a single planeload may be hauling around up to 2500 pounds (1,136 kilos) of turds.

Shocking. If the fuel consumption figures in the article above are accurate, that means that China Southern’s A380s could burn up to 227 extra liters of fuel an hour just dragging around surplus shit. On a twelve-hour long-haul to San Francisco that could mean almost 3000 extra liters of fuel consumed in the name of turd-haulage. Add on another three flushes (conservatively) per person on that same flight and you are looking at another 1500 liters of fuel consumed, for a total of 4500 kilos of fossil fuels –1.5% of the aircraft’stotal fuel capacity– flushed away in the name of airborne waste management. My god, people, haven’t you heard of global warming?

Looked at this way, you can see that China Southern might be onto something. In fact, they might taking too conservative an approach to managing this situation. In the interest of safeguarding this planet that we all share, Imagethief proposes that, like hair gel and toothpaste in the US, human fecal matter be banned from all Chinese flights. Passengers should be required to consume a heavy dose of laxatives the day before flying and to purge thoroughly before boarding. Enema lounges could be installed in all Chinese airports, helping passengers to unburden themselves their ungreen load before boarding. I find a pre-flight high colonic highly refreshing myself, and imagine that it could become quite the fad. Naturally, pre-boarding security questions should be amended:

  • Did you pack your bags yourself?
  • Has anyone else handled your luggage since you packed it?
  • Did you have a nice, big shit this morning?

With a few simple steps like this we can help China Southern to claw its way into profitability and reduce the global warming threat posed by air transportation. China could establish itself as environmental leader and revolutionize the entire approach to air travel. Dependency upon oil imports would also be reduced. Just think: if every airline in the world was to implement a program like this, we would live on greener, cleaner, more peaceful planet. Considering the benefits, an enema at a Chinese airport seems like a small price to pay.

Note: Thanks to Gordon at The Horse’s Mouth for sending this article to me. Dude, when are you coming back to China? This country needs you.

Related: Shanghai closed flights into and out of Pudong for several hours yesterday due to “air traffic volume”. Foreign flight crews ascribed the delays to military exercises. Anyone who travels in China regularly knows that the all-too-common flight delays and cancellations often get dubious official explanations, and the military’s fiat over Chinese airspace is widely and credibly blamed. In this case it seems likely. No one closes an airport to all traffic because of congestion. You might divert some traffic or delay some flights, but close the airport? The flagship airport at your glamourous international business city? The military explanation sounds a lot more credible in that case. Or some other similarly conspiratorial explanation. At any rate, you coudn’t get much more bush-league, especially considering the government’s usual appalling communication, which extends to what looks to me like a complete absence of any press coverage of the incident.

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