Q I recently flew to Los Angeles from New York on American Airlines. About two hours into the flight, there was an announcement that all the onboard toilets, except for one in coach class, had stopped working, and so more than 150 passengers had to share one bathroom. How does this happen? Are there guidelines or regulations that airlines should follow in this situation? There seemed to be no accidents, and the bathroom at the back coped amazingly well. After we landed, there was a stampede to the toilets in Terminal 4.

A This question raises some important, if delicate, points, which we'll get to in a minute. But first, here is American Airlines' response:

"The decision to divert an aircraft due to lavatory issues is a difficult one. We must balance the desire to get our customers to their destination on time, while ensuring everyone has the amenities they need during the flight." AA didn't address how something like this happens and whether there are guidelines it should have followed.

Although the Federal Aviation Administration has what it calls a minimum equipment list, "There is nothing in the airline regulations about minimum numbers of lavatories," said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman.

Apart from what's required and why this happened, it really comes down to your comfort -- or lack thereof -- if you're faced with such a situation.

The American Airlines situation is unusual, but just in case -- or to avoid lots of trips up and down the aisle -- avoid drinks that act as diuretics, said Michael Zimring, director of travel medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore and the author of "Healthy Travel: Don't Travel Without It!" Especially avoid drinks with caffeine and alcohol, which rules out coffee, colas and anything that might make you feel better about being stuck in line or without a bathroom. Those who take diuretics for medical conditions also might consider modifying their schedules.

The bigger and more common issue with airplane restrooms is that they're often just a step above the portable toilets we are forced to use at sporting or other outdoor events. Antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers (3.4 ounces or less for carry-on purposes) are your allies.

Today's column comes from Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times.