Saturday, September 06, 2014

Letter to Designers of Airport Restrooms

Dear Airport Restroom Designer:

If you have taken an airplane recently, you know that airlines charge extra to check luggage.  This has led to much longer loading times, since people are bringing much of their luggage on board the airplane.  What you may not have realized is that this and the concept of differences of anatomy for the different genders also affect the logistics of designing the restrooms.

First of all, I assume that you notice that there are frequently both a line and an amorphous blob of people waiting outside of the women's restrooms.  The line is for the women waiting to use the facilities; the blob is the group of men and boys waiting for the women and girls to use the facilities.  There is virtually never a line or an amorphous blob near the entrance to the men's facilities.  This is where you should learn that there is a difference between equality and equity.  Due to an unreasonable desire for symmetry and "fairness", the facilities for men and women generally take up equal amounts of floor space in the design of the airport.  This is not reasonable.  You see, men and women use the facilities differently.  Women ALWAYS use the stalls.  Men do not.  Women generally have to do a bit of undressing to use the facilities (which is slower).  Men have minimal needs for that.  Therefore, when you design the restrooms for airports (and other public spaces, actually), the facilities for the women need to occupy MORE room than the facilities for men.  How much more?  I am not sure, but certainly you can do some research.  My guess is that a 2:1 ratio would improve things vastly.

Secondly, the aforementioned luggage problem.  Due to increased security concerns, no one can leave their luggage unattended.  Since many people travel alone with a roller bag and another carry on, they need to take these items with them into the restroom stalls.  Maneuvering the roller bag and the additional carry on into these narrow stalls requires significant agility and planning.  Additionally, it is frequently the woman who takes her young children with her into the restroom.  Try fitting a toddler, an infant, a diaper bag, and a purse with you in one stall - without dropping any of them.  Ever wonder why the handicapped stalls are seldom empty?  It is because people actually have room to bring their luggage and/or children in with them without needing acrobatic skills.  Thus, my second recommendation is that you STOP following the example of the airlines.  They are making the airplane seats narrower and shallower.  This leads to cramped and grumpy passengers.  Please stop making the toilet stalls narrower and shallower.  We really do not want to pee on our luggage (or our children).  This leads to cramped, grumpy, and slightly smelly passengers.

Additionally, it would help if there were a visible indication that a stall is occupied.  This means something like what used to be available on stall doors: when you locked the door, a red occupied sign appeared.  Otherwise, people have to resort to looking under the stall doors for shoes, which seems rather voyeur-ish.  Knocking on the door is alarming to the occupant and is a bit aggressive.  It also hard to tell which door is being knocked on, so, rather than reply, the occupant often just prays the door closure mechanism will stay closed.   

You are doing better with the design of sinks, mirrors, and faucets.  I would like to advise you, though, that people would rather leave with wet hands than spend tedious time with the blow dryers.  There need to be better choices.  Personally, I still prefer paper, though I know that it is wasteful.  It is quick and thorough.  Too bad the cloth rollers are so expensive.  They were nice.

Finally, I know this isn't part of the design, but perhaps you could convince the airports to purchase soap for the dispensers that is relatively odor-free.  In the interests of hygiene we need to use soap to wash our hands, but the smelly, cheap soaps make us nauseous for an hour after use, so many of us skip them.

Your considerations of these suggestions is appreciated.

Female Airport Traveler


  1. Amen. Although you missed one simple improvement that occurs to me every time I'm straddling a toilet holding my roller bag in the air so I can get the stall door shut. Why the #$&%#* don't those doors open OUT?!?