Overcoming P-Factor

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Mike BuschOnceupon a time, there was an entrepreneur-pilot — let’s call him Herb — who, after decadesof flying lesser aircraft, decided that it was time to step up to a jet. Aftermeticulously comparing the specs and prices of all available aircraft and carefullyanalyzing the mission profiles of his business, he decided on a particular Cessna Citationmodel that offered both the cruise range and the short-field capability he needed. Herbchecked with his comptroller and verified that the highly-successful business could affordthe Citation’s multimillion-dollar price tag. Only one major obstacle remained: persuadingHerb’s wife (who was also active in the business) to agree to the purchase.

After carefully preparing his case, Herb met with his wife — let’s call her Sally –to discuss the matter. Using all his considerable skills of persuasion, he explained tohis wife that the jet would enable the two of them to spend much less time apart. Shewould be able to accompany him on more business trips, he said, and in most cases he wouldbe able to return home the same evening instead of having to say away from home overnight.Herb explained the reasons for choosing this particular aircraft, reviewed the financialconsiderations, and then asked Sally if she had any questions about the prospectivepurchase.

“Just one,” said Sally. “Does it have a toilet?”

Herb assured her that it did.

“Okay, go ahead and buy it,” she replied.

The story is true, although the names have been changed to protect the innocent, andthe moral is clear: With the possible exception of turbulence, there is probably nothingmore disconcerting to the average light-plane passenger than the aircraft’s lack ofbathroom facilities. For those of us who are not in the financial position to step up to aKing Air or Citation or other bathroom-class aircraft, the need for a cost-effective wayof addressing such concerns is painfully obvious.

At the risk of sounding gender-biased, I think it’s reasonable to state that theseconcerns tend to be even more prevalent among female passengers. There are two goodreasons for this. First, women tend on average to have shorter bladder capacities thanmen. Second, women are — how shall I put this? — at something of a physiologicaldisadvantage to men when it comes to in-flight fluid transfers, especially in the aimingdepartment. (How’d I do?)

There are several portable urinal products on the market designed to deal with theproblem, and I took it upon myself to put three of them through rigorous P-testing forthis review. More importantly, I enlisted two members of the fairer sex to press all threeproducts into service, so to speak, and then debriefed them thoroughly on their successand their reactions.

Little John and Lady J Adapter

Little John and Lady J Adapter
Little John is sealed with a with screw-on cap. Optional Lady J Adapter is used to permit urinal to be used by females.

Don’t hold me to this, but I’m pretty sure that the red plastic “Little John”urinal container has been listed in the Sporty’s PilotShop catalog ever since I received my first Sporty’s catalog 35 years ago. It’s anoddly-shaped red plastic jug with a white screw-on cap, and its one-quart capacity issufficient for two or three “relief events” before emptying. Thousands of thesespecial-use bottles have been sold to GA pilots over the years, and many smooth landingsat the end of long flights have been directly attributable to the pilot’s in-flight usageof the LJ.

While the basic Little John is designed for use by men, a companion white plasticfunnel called the “Lady J Adapter” snaps into the mouth of the Little John andallegedly modifies the urinal for female use. Sporty’ssells the Little John for $5.95 and the Lady J Adapter for $6.95. King Schools also sellsthese products in their mail-order catalog.

I subjected the Little John to P-testing and it worked, more or less. I did find theunit to be awkwardly bulky to keep within easy reach in the cockpit: It’s too big to fitin a seat-back pocket or in the glove box, for example. Also, it’s easy to get the threecomponents (red jug, white screw-on cap, and adapter funnel) separated in storage orduring use. If you use the LJ in flight and misplace the cap, the result is likely to bean odorized cabin (and perhaps a real mess if it starts to get turbulent). Even with thecap screwed on firmly, the Little John proved something less than 100% leak-proof. Thatwas particularly true during significant changes of altitude (and hence cabin pressure).

While I did okay with the Little John, both female testers were positively repulsed bythe product. For one thing, they were very reluctant even to try the device due toconcerns about hygiene. “How do I know where that thing has been,” one asked.”Did you sterilize it first?” When finally persuaded to give it a try, bothladies found the funnel-adapter to be uncomfortable and leak-prone. Then, after use, theywere horrified at the prospect of having to remove the urine-soiled funnel-adapter inorder to secure the screw-on cap, and didn’t know what to do with the now-unhygienicadapter. Finally, they were somewhat embarrassed about having to carry thedistinctively-shaped and obviously-sloshing container from the airplane to a bathroomwhere it could be emptied and rinsed out.

All in all, the Little John and Lady J rated a resounding “thanks, but nothanks” from the distaff side. As for me, I rated it superior to a Coke bottle butleaving quite a lot to be desired.

Brief Relief

Brief Relief
Brief Relief is an opaque polyethylene bag that contains a super-absorbent polymer powder that gels and deodorizes urine.

In recent years, a number of disposable urinal products have come on the market. Todate, the most popular of these has been sold under the trademark “BriefRelief.” It consists of an opaque polyethylene bag containing a highly-absorbentpowdered polymer that absorbs urine and converts it almost instantly into a deodorized,spill-proof gel.

The top of the Brief Relief bag is sealed with a slide-on seal tube, and hemmed with aplastic stiffener that facilitates opening the mouth of the bag for use. About halfwaydown the inside of the bag is a funnel-shaped membrane with a center hole that separatesthe bag into upper and lower chambers, with the absorbent polymer powder in the lowerchamber. A foil-packed sanitary wet-wipe is also included with each bag.

Brief Relief slide
Brief Relief uses a separate slide-off seal tube, which is replaced after use.

Brief Relief mouth
Holding the mouth fully open is normally a two-handed operation. (Internal funnel-shaped divider with center hole is visible in this photo.)

To use the Brief Relief, the seal tube is first slid off to expose the mouth of thebag. The top edges of the bag are pulled apart with both hands to open the mouth into arectangular shape for use as a urinal. After use, the mouth is closed, the seal tube slidback on, and the bag is kneaded for a few seconds until the polymer absorbs and gels allthe liquid. Once this is done, the contents become spill-proof and odor-free. Uponlanding, the bag may be tossed in any trash receptacle.

An early version of the Brief Relief was carried in the Sporty’s Pilot Shop catalog,priced at $9.95 for a package of four bags. Sporty’s has apparently discontinued thisproduct, but an improved, heavy-duty, large-capacity model of the Brief Relief iscurrently available from Aircraft Spruce &Specialty Co., priced at $3.25 each or $17.55 for six bags. This was the model wetested.

I found the Brief Relief to be well-made, and the thick opaque polyethylene bag to beboth discreet-looking and relatively puncture-proof. The polymer powder was astonishinglyeffective at absorbing, deodorizing, and spill-proofing even large quantities of urinealmost immediately. Days later, in fact, the contents remained odor-free and inert.

I was not too enamored with the slide-off seal tube because — like the screw-on cap ofthe Little John — I considered it too easy to misplace during use. In fairness, however,resealing the bag after use is not essential, since the gelled contents are spill-proofeven without the seal tube.

The primary problem I found with the Brief Relief was that the polymer powder can workits way out of the bottom chamber of the bag, particularly if the product is inverted atany time before use. In some cases, the mouth of the bag became contaminated with thepowder, which — while technically non-toxic — can irritate the skin, and can stingrather nastily if it gets into the eyes or mouth. As you might imagine, this could be aparticularly serious problem for a female user.

Speaking of females, our two feminine testers had decidedly mixed results with theBrief Relief. One succeeded in putting the product to its intended use without spillage,but only by assuming a relatively upright semi-squatting position that would probably bedifficult to duplicate in most light-plane cabins. The other tester attempted to use theBrief Relief in a more normal position (i.e., a nearly-seated squat) with veryunsatisfactory (and extremely messy) results. Both agreed that the need to use two handsto hold the mouth of the bag open was awkward. The consensus was that this product isprobably not well suited to in-flight use by females, at least not without a good deal ofpractice (and a fair amount of dexterity).

#1 Travel John

#1 Travel John comes in reclosable 3-packs
#1 Travel John features an integral “unisex” adapter mouth. It can also be used as a “barf bag” for motion sickness.

Bag-within-a-bag design eliminates power spillage.
Unique bag-within-a-bag design makes spillage of polymer powder impossible.

Gelling action makes it spill-proof
Gelling action occurs within a few seconds, and renders liquid completely spill-proof.

The oddly-named “#1 Travel John” is a relatively recent entry to thedisposable urinal market. It uses the same basic absorbent-polymer technology as the BriefRelief, but with several significant design differences.

The polymer powder in the #1 Travel John is sealed in a fluid-permeablepermanently-sealed fabric inner bag, which is wholly contained within the liquid-tightpolyethylene outer bag. This bag-within-a-bag design makes it virtually impossible for thepolymer powder to spill or contaminate the user’s skin. Because the powder cannot possiblyspill, no seal tube or other closure is required, making the #1TJ essentially a one-piecedevice with no parts to misplace.

The mouth of the #1TJ bag is a semi-rigid “unisex adapter” shaped to make thedevice suitable for use by females as well as males. Because the mouth does not have to beheld open, the #1TJ can be used with only one hand — a real advantage for pilots flyingnon-autopilot-equipped airplanes. Like the Brief Relief, the #1TJ did an excellent job ofgelling and deodorizing even large quantities of urine within seconds, after which itcould be safely inverted without spilling a drop.

Our female testers did better with the #1TJ than with either of the other two products.The one who had problems using the Brief Relief turned in a totally leak-free performanceon her first try with the #1TJ. The other tester encountered a little spillage on thefirst attempt, but did fine the second time around. Practice makes perfect.

The ladies did have two minor criticisms of the #1TJ, however. First, because the”adapter” mouth of the unit is exposed to urine during use, the women feltuncomfortable without having some sort of trash bag in which to dispose of the #1TJ afteruse (despite the fact that the contents are completely spill-proof when gelled). Second,the women missed the moist towelette that is packaged with each Brief Relief but notincluded in the #1TJ.

Another advantage of the #1TJ design is that it can double as a “barf bag” inthe event of motion sickness. It is safe to use in this fashion because the polymer powderis completely sealed in the inner bag. The absorbent polymer should be as effective ingelling and deodorizing vomit as it is with urine, although I did not actually test it inthat mode. Sorry.

Dr. Brent Blue’s company Aeromedix.com is carrying the #1 Travel Johnnow. Their Web site lists a box of six 3-packs (18 units) for $27.95. Aeromedix.com includes opaque seal-tight disposal bags andindividually-wrapped moist towlettes with each #1TJ order at no additional charge.In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I serve as a paid consultantto Brent’s company, and have been involved in the selection and evaluation of most of theproducts he offers for sale through Aeromedix.com.

I also understand that the #1TJ is slated to be listed in the Sporty’s Pilot Shop catalog, priced at $4.99 for apackage of three.

#1 Travel JohnRecommendation

As awkward as it may be to talk about, wastewater disposal is a real problem for thoseof us who fly with avgas instead of Jet A. The recent availability of super-absorbentpolymer powders have now made it possible to solve this problem with compact, spill-proof,odor-proof disposable urinals. So far, the #1 Travel John seems to be the best of thebreed. I’d suggest keeping a three-pack in each seat-back pocket. It works well, and is awhole lot cheaper than trading up to a King Air or Citation.

Okay, now on to problem #2…