Put the hard hitting election news to the side. There’s huge news in from United Airlines, and it may change every flight for months, or even years to come. From Curb Your Enthusiasm to Bridesmaids, the conundrum of aircraft lavatory etiquette has puzzled and frustrated airline passengers for years.
Everyone hates waiting in a long line when they’ve gotta go, and the first class lavatory is usually free, but can economy passengers walk past everyone in their bulkier leather seats and use it, or is that taboo? United, at least for now, says go for it.
United Weighs In On Airplane Lavatories
United, never a stranger to controversy in the skies, has weighed in on the issue of using the lavatory in your cabin. You no longer have to, at least for now.
United never heavily modified on board seating measures in response to covid-19, so it’s an odd move, 6+ months into the pandemic. Unlike the vast majority of US airlines, United never guaranteed blocked middle seats, or set a max capacity on flights, even during the height of the pandemic.
Now, it will have an even greater overlap of passengers, as economy cabin and business or first class cabin passengers mix to use lavatories. In recent months, many airlines moved to a back to front boarding system which boards business class last.
Prior to this United move, it was at least feasibly possible for an economy passenger never to come in close proximity to a fellow guest in the front of their cabin, or another cabin, and equally feasible for a business or first class passenger to never be in close proximity to a passenger in the economy cabin.
United says this measure has been reviewed by the Cleveland Clinic, and the goal is an admirable one, even if it leaves much to be desired. People waiting around lavatories in close proximity doesn’t help with social distancing or hygiene, but then again neither does operating flights at up to 100% capacity, which United has chosen to maintain. It’s hard to see how one is different to another.
In line with his etiquette notes, View From The Wing notes American Airlines also has a more flexible policy in this regard to most airlines. Customers on AA are able to use lavatories from other cabins on domestic flights and also flights departing the USA. The message on both airlines is to use the same cabin when possible, but if not, go fo rit.
As a frequent passenger in both cabins, I don’t quite know how to feel.
Significant scientific studies suggest transmission of covid-19 on planes is extremely low, but at its very lowest when you’re actually seated with a mask on. The most worry involves non aerosol transmission by touching surfaces, such as those of a lavatory door handle or anywhere inside the lavatory itself which are harder to control.
Customers paying a significant premium to sit in first or business class are unlikely to be happy about hundreds of potentially infected people being eligible to use the often empty lavatory and come in close proximity as they brush past during the flight. Empty lavatories are one of the few remaining perks of flying up front domestically.
Even economy passengers may not be too cheerful, with all the extra action up and down the aisles as fellow passengers travel further distances, in both directions.
Surely a technology based solution using seat back screens – oh wait, most airlines removed them – or any queue system would help. I’ve been on more than a few flights where cabin crew simply ask people to remain seated until the lavatory is green, so as not to stand around. It’s not perfect, but neither is United’s plan.
How would you feel as a passenger in either cabin?