7 Things You Should Never Do in an Airplane Bathroom

Caroline Costello, September 23, 2013
Fares from Washington DC:

    An airplane bathroom is a crude and scary place. There is a sink that dispenses water of questionable potability. And the powerful vacuum toilet has the potential to crush human bones. (So it appears.) Therefore, its usage calls for some civility. To make the experience better for everyone, let's heed a set of simple, easy-to-follow behavioral guidelines. Here are seven rules for using the airplane bathroom with grace and courtesy.

    Don't Make a Mess

    "Leave the world better than you found it," said someone who spent time in a 3 x 3-foot aircraft lavatory sullied with puddles of questionable liquid and crumpled paper-towel balls. (Actually, it was Robert Baden-Powell.) Follow this motto in the plane loo: Wipe down the sink. Deposit used paper towels in the trash can. Courtesy flush (for more information, look it up on Urban Dictionary). And—if you only perform one act of consideration for fellow flyers, let it be this—please flush when you are finished with your business; though this seems like an obvious action, evidence suggests that a large number of travelers can't bother with closing the lid and pushing the flush button. Humans flush toilets. This is what we do.

    I've known travelers to clean the bathroom before using it: They bring a Lysol wipe and get to work. When finished using the bathroom, do a quick wipe-down before you leave to earn bonus karma points.

    Don't Ask Fellow Flyers to Watch Your Kid

    You'll just be in the bathroom for a minute or two. So is it OK to leave your little one quietly watching Dora the Explorer on the iPad? The answer is no. Parents have two options—none of which feature complimentary childcare services provided by your seatmate: Bring your recently born companion to the bathroom with you or ask a flight attendant to watch the tyke.

    Don't Object to Aisle-Seat Traffic

    Once, on a long-haul international flight during which I was stuck in the middle seat, the woman who occupied the adjacent aisle seat freely expressed her irritation by way of eye rolls and audible sighs when I needed to access the lavatory. I was not abusing my bathroom privileges. I politely said, "Excuse me," and tried to become pancake-flat when shuffling by. I got out of my seat twice during the entire six-hour trip—but the soulless aisle fascist decided this was two times too many.

    With great power comes great responsibility. If you sit near the aisle, be prepared for your seatmates to walk all over you. It's the trade-off you accept for the perk of sitting next to a heavenly pocket of empty space. One never knows if a seatmate suffers from a medical condition that necessitates frequent bathroom visits, or if he or she ate some contaminated street food. (We are talking about travel here.) Let's hold the judgment.

    Don't Take Forever

    Speaking of medical conditions, flyers suffering with physical ailments certainly get a pass here. But the rest of us need to treat the airplane lavatory like a drive-through: Make your transaction and then move on quickly. There might not be a line for the bathroom when you shut that door, but long airplane-lavatory queues can form in a matter of seconds. Save makeup application, hair styling, book reading, texting, phone conversations, and needlepoint for the plane seat.

    Don't Go at the Wrong Time

    First, use the facilities before boarding. There will be a period of time—during taxi and after takeoff—when the seatbelt sign is lit and passengers must stay put. Flyers who use the bathroom prior to taxi could delay takeoff, as passengers are instructed to be in their seats with seatbelts fastened before the plane gets off the ground.

    Additionally, avoid trips to the lavatory during beverage and meal service whenever possible. When the big, boxy meal cart comes down the aisle, anyone lingering out of his or her seat must squeeze into the personal space of an unfortunate aisle-seat passenger; this configuration becomes particularly uncomfortable when the butt of standing Passenger A is positioned inches from the face of seated Passenger B. It's not fun.

    Don't Be Rude in Line

    In an ideal world, those of us not in the throes of a toilet emergency could let people or families with children move to the front of the line. What's the hurry anyway? The longer a flyer stays standing, the better his or her body can recover after hours folded into a seat built to the scale of a dollhouse.

    And remember, it's best to avoid small talk while waiting for the lavatory. A stranger might not want to discuss his vacation plans while struggling to contain the aftereffects of copious cups of water and coffee.

    For the Love of All Things Holy, Don't Forget to Lock the Door

    Barring illness or a plane crash, an aircraft-lavatory "surprise" is arguably the scariest thing that can happen in the sky. Is it worse to be the person who mistakenly opens the door of an occupied bathroom or the passenger caught with his or her pants down? This longstanding philosophical debate may never reach a conclusion. But all can agree that a simple turn of the lock will save untold innocents from crushing indignity.

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    This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Seven Things You Should Never Do in an Airplane Bathroom.

    Follow Caroline Costello on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

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