SEATTLE – If you're doing your business in an airplane lavatory and the plane suddenly decompresses, you won't have access to oxygen anymore, according to published reports.
The FAA secretly ordered every U.S. airline last month to empty or remove emergency oxygen tanks in all their airplane lavatories. Air Worthiness Directive 2011-04-09, as it is called, has reportedly been enacted on 6,000 airplanes across the country.
The concern is security. The FAA says oxygen generators in those lavatories could be used by terrorists to take down airplanes by turning the canisters into explosive devices, the FAA told NBC News.
The directive was kept secret from the public until now.
“Had the FAA publicized the existence of this security vulnerability prior to airlines fixing it, thousands of planes across the U.S. and the safety of passengers could have been at risk,” the agency said.
This now means that if you are in the lavatory and there is a sudden loss of cabin pressure, you'll have to scramble back to your seat to get your oxygen.
Flight attendants have been trained to assist passengers to quickly get access to oxygen, even those in the bathroom, said the FAA. But critics of the move say it turns the lavatory into a potential death trap for passengers.
"By eliminating the source of oxygen for the unlucky souls in the bathroom, you’ve just killed those people," aviation safety expert Arthur Alan Wolk told NBC.
"I’m panicking just thinking about this," said Kate Hanni, executive director of Flyersrights.org, a nonprofit airline passengers' rights organization.
The FAA says it's working with airplane manufacturers to design a new lavatory oxygen system.
There have been only 12 incidents in the past ten years of pressure loss at cruising altitudes, the FAA said.