Airport Restrooms – Why Can’t Stalls Be Larger?
Do you want to know how to find the best airport restroom? Guest Author Kiera Reilly* shares the best airport restrooms she has found along with some tips on how to best scope them out for yourself:
Traveling through airports is often a hassle and sometimes downright unpleasant. But with many airports being renovated with new food and retail vendors, sometimes the down-time waiting for a flight, in between layovers or unexpected flight delays can be more pleasurable than in the past. Except for the bathrooms. I can not speak to the men’s restroom situation, but it seems that whoever designs airport restrooms these days has not considered how most of us travel in modern times – with a rolling carry-on bag. These small rolling luggage bags are wonderful – if you pack smartly and efficiently, you do not need to check luggage. If you check luggage but still bring valuables and other items on the plane, these wheeled bags are much easier for traveling through the airport, eliminating the need to carry heavy items on our shoulders or arms.
Yet, if you need to use the restroom and are traveling alone (and thus need to bring said carry on bag into the bathroom stall with you), one must be a contortionist. The bathroom stalls in most restrooms are simply not deep enough to accommodate both you and your wheeled bag while closing the door. I often wheel the bag in, slide it next to the side of the toilet, close the door, then wheel the bag against the door while I use the toilet. To exit the stall, I repeat, or I climb over my bag. I often say a quick prayer that I am able bodied enough to contort my limbs to fit into the stall and climb over my bag, and I wonder how others who are not as flexible manage. Sure, many people wait to use the stalls intended for those with disabilities, since they are larger, but there are usually only one or two of those stalls, and if there is a line and you are short on time before your flight, you may not have time to wait. Not to mention that those stalls should be kept open for those who truly do need the extra accommodation.
What amazes me now as I travel to new, modern airports is that many have large restroom areas, with several feet of space between the sinks and the stalls. Yet the stalls are not deep enough for a person to walk inside and close the door, much less walk inside and close the door with a bag in tow. I did not even mention the self-flushing toilets that seem to be quite popular. With all the contorting I do to situate myself in the stall, the self-flushing toilet flushes at least three times before I even use it!
(Editor’s Travel Tip: carry mini Post-It Notes in your bag to cover the sensor on the auto-flushing toilet. This will keep it from flushing until you remove the Post-It Note. Especially good when traveling with children who might be frightened by the toilet suddenly flushing when they are still on it!)
I take pictures in airport restrooms (if the room is relatively empty because I do not want people in my pictures) because I am always delighted by the stalls with enough space to walk in with my bag and close the door. Bonus points for stalls that have a shelf for your purse or bag. The small hooks on the backs of most stall doors are not strong or large enough to hold a coat and large bag. I am also astounded at all of the “space” in the bathrooms that could be utilized for deeper stalls, so I sometimes document that too.
Some of the best airport restrooms I have encountered in my travels:
PHL Philadelphia – Terminal D
While this terminal was a bit run-down as it is not for the main PHL carrier (US Airways, pre-merger with American,) but for United, Southwest and Delta, it has some nice bathroom stalls. They are not new or always necessarily the cleanest, but the stall doors open outwards into the restroom and not inwards into the stall! I have never had an issue bumping into other travelers, and it is so easy to enter the stall with a wheeled bag. At the beginning of the terminal, what used to be right after going through security, but is now near the terminal exit, are some wonderful bathrooms with super-large stalls – so big that an individual sink is in each stall. The sinks never seem to be in working order, but I love that the stalls are big and I am not bumping into every wall while trying to secure myself and my belongings so I can use the facilities. There are only a handful of these super-large stalls, but whenever I visit that restroom, there is never a line and only one or two other people using them.
SAN San Diego
I had not visited this airport for several years and was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful open floor plan and the bathrooms – deep stalls! Automatic water and soap dispensers!
SJC San Jose
The newer terminal building bathrooms are a delight – big restrooms, large stalls, automatic faucets and Dyson hand dryers.
I visited this airport in July en route to London. The terminal was bright and airy, and so were the restrooms. A opaque window in the restroom allowed natural light to enter, and the stalls were deep.
IAD Washington Dulles
I traveled through Dulles on a late Saturday afternoon and the airport was very empty. These stalls were a nice size, and the automatic faucets for the sinks worked well.
Airports with restrooms that could use improvement
I was amazed at the space between the stalls and the sinks – I don’t know if someone expects a line of 10 people waiting outside each stall but the stalls themselves are so narrow it makes no sense! Either make the stalls deeper or have the stall doors open out. Otherwise, you need to be a contortionist to fit in the stall with your bags.
SFO San Francisco
Re: the restrooms in the United terminal by the 70s gates: A bit older, there is plenty of open space in the restroom itself, but the stalls remain small. Bonus points for Dyson hand dryers.
LAX – United Terminal (7/8)
I fly United the most so am most familiar with terminals 7 and 8. While I know that there are new stores and food offerings, the restrooms are in serious need of an overhaul. But the stalls are older so I can’t fault them for not being deep.
I took photos of the bathroom in the new Star Alliance Lounge at Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT). While featuring wood doors and a modern design, even in the lounge the bathroom stalls are not very wide or deep for accommodating a wheeled bag.
This is not restroom related, but I like the new trend of providing stations for refilling water bottles in the airport terminal. Using these stations will hopefully decrease the need for purchasing bottled water past security, which is often expensive.
I have spotted stations in SFO (San Francisco), SEA (Seattle-Tacoma) and ORD (Chicago O’Hare).
Tips for using airport restrooms:
- If traveling with another person, take turns visiting the restrooms and watching each others bags. Bring only your purse and/or whatever toiletries you might need – the less you bring in to the restroom, the easier it will be to navigate the tight stall spaces.
- If traveling alone, allow extra time and wait for an available disabled stall – these are larger and easier to use if you have a wheeled bag with you.
- Explore the terminals – ask a flight attendant or gate agent for recommendations – like the Philadelphia airport example above, there might be hidden restrooms with more room than others.
*Note to Airport designers: Consider how travelers utilize all of your facilities – not only the gate areas (where extra electrical outlets are always welcomed and needed), and the food and shopping options, but also the restrooms! Allow for more space, maybe add a shelf in the stall, perhaps even a shelf over the sink to place a bag while washing hands. Doors that open outward help a lot!
What about you? Do you have a favorite airport restroom? We would love to add to our list of airport restrooms that better accommodate the modern traveler. Email us or comment on our Facebook, twitter, or Instagram page. Send photos using the hashtag #bestairportstall. We will add a “best of” post as we get additional airport stalls that are noteworthy.
*Guest Author Kiera Reilly is a group travel planner and alumni relations professional. Between travels for work and vacation, she has visitied six continents, forty-five countries, and countless airport restrooms. She is a passionate fan of Formula 1 racing , the Olympics, and Penn Basketball. When traveling, she enjoys searching for the perfect macchiato or cappuccino and interesting whiskey and gin. More on her travel adventures can be found on her blog: KieraReilly.com.