Flying High: How to Respect Airplane Bathroom Etiquette

skip the mile high club

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Answering the call of nature at thirty-thousand feet is not an everyday occurrence, but when flying abroad, bathroom breaks normally become a necessity. Using the bathroom on an airplane is something that should be given some forethought.

Flying High: How to Respect Airplane Bathroom Etiquette

During a global pandemic where we all were isolated, many people seemed to forget basic interaction skills or a simple consideration for other people. Simple reminders are helping many people, but I am still stunned at what I see when I fly. I am in no means the perfect “miss manners” but there is a lot of common sense that seems to be lacking a bit.

I know there are no official airplane bathroom etiquette rules, but these unwritten rules are a great way to get along well with your fellow passengers.

This ranks right up there with that question about who gets the middle armrests – the person in the middle seat, window seat, or aisle seat. Or those unspoken rules like keep your bare feet covered and avoid bringing smelly foods on board. On short flights, they are all annoying, but those long flights will have even crew members looking at you wondering if you ever had lessons on common courtesy. (Yes it is a good practice to wear shoes, and stay within the width of your seat.)

Today we are talking about more than just plane seats or where to put your carry-on bag. Let’s face it, there are plenty of distractions from airline etiquette. Good etiquette helps make to make flying pleasant for all passengers. We can all play our part by being considerate, to do what we would want others to do.

If you’ve never flown before or never used the bathroom of an aircraft in flight, this airplane bathroom etiquette guide will tell you everything you need to know before, during, and after you use the airplane bathroom.

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Go Before You Go

If you can, use the bathroom in the airport terminal before you board the airplane, because you may not have another opportunity to go to the bathroom until the plane is in the air. There is nothing worse than realizing how bad you need to go when that fasten seatbelt sign has lit up.

It is possible to use the airplane bathroom while passengers are boarding; however, boarding is one of the worst times to use the bathroom, and you should avoid going to the bathroom during boarding if you can. Aisles are crowded with people finding their seats and stowing their luggage in the overhead bin, and it can be hard to negotiate the traffic to get to the bathroom.

If you must use the airplane bathroom during boarding, wait for a break in the flow of traffic and walk with the flow of traffic toward the back of the plane, where most airplanes place two bathrooms, one on either side of the fuselage. After you use the bathroom, wait at the rear of the plane for boarding traffic to subside before you make your way back up the aisle to your seat.

avoid congested aisles on a plane

Don’t Fuel Up

A good rule of thumb is don’t drink too much before your flight. Drinking too much alcohol, soda, or even water before you fly will probably have you needing to visit the bathroom pretty soon after stepping on the plane. While it is recommended that we drink water on long-haul flights, we should limit the amount to a reasonable decree.

Go Whenever You Can

During the flight, timing is everything. The bathrooms on an airplane tend to get very busy just after food and drinks have been served and during that thirty to forty-five-minute period before landing. Choosing the right time will usually mean you won’t have to wait in line with the rest of the passengers.

After takeoff, the flight captain will turn off the “fasten seatbelt” sign. When the sign is turned off, it is considered safe for passengers to get up and move around the plane. When you see that the sign is off, you may unfasten your safety belt, move to the aisle of the plane, and walk up or down the aisle to one of the airplane bathrooms.

first class passengers

Airplane bathrooms are located at the front and the rear of the airplane; however, if your flight offers first-class service, the bathrooms at the front of the plane are reserved for first-class passengers only, and you cannot use them unless you purchased a first-class fare.

If the plane has only coach-class seats, then you may use the bathrooms at either the front or rear of the plane. On coach-class flights, most passengers choose to use the bathroom closest to their seats.

Mind The Line

If other passengers are standing in the aisle around the bathroom door, they are probably waiting in line to use the bathroom. Wait your turn patiently, or return to your seat and come back when the line is shorter.

is the airplane bathroom occupied

When it is your turn to use the bathroom, check the door to be sure the bathroom is vacant. Airplane bathroom doors have a sign near the doorknob that reads “Vacant” when no one is in the bathroom or “Occupied” when the door is closed and locked from the inside. If you see the word “Vacant” on the front of the bathroom door, the coast is clear for you to enter.

Once Inside

Once you are inside the airplane bathroom, close and lock the bathroom door behind you so the sign on the door outside will change from “Vacant” to “Occupied.”

Use the toilet as quickly as you can, using only the paper marked as toilet paper and dropping it into the toilet when you finish. Use a seat cover if you need to sit on the toilet seat.

Most flights are smooth enough to allow you to use the bathroom without losing your balance due to sudden movements or turbulence, but brace yourself and be prepared to shift your weight to keep your balance.


When using the bathroom, try to leave it as you found it which hopefully, is clean. Leaving the bathroom otherwise reflects badly on you as the person following you will know who you are.

After you finish, push the “flush” button to flush the toilet. Wash and dry your hands, using soap from the soap dispenser and paper towels from the towel dispenser.

Throw the soiled towels away in the built-in trash bin, not in the toilet.

Think of Others

When using the bathroom, try to leave it as you found it which hopefully, is clean. Leaving the bathroom otherwise reflects badly on you as the person following you will know who you are. Use one or two extra paper towels to wipe both the toilet seat and the small countertop around the sink. Throw these towels in the trash bin.

skip the mile high club
Skip the Mile High Club

Be considerate as to the amount of time you spend in the bathroom, especially if there is a queue. Some passengers use the bathroom for very lengthy periods, especially toward the end of the flight when some change clothes or apply fresh makeup. Please skip the mile high club – I could never understand trying to get two people into that tiny room as it was difficult enough with a toddler!

If the airplane moves unexpectedly, or if the “fasten seatbelt” sign comes on while you are in the bathroom, do not panic. Calmly finish what you have to do, stay focused on the task at hand, and return quickly to your seat.

No Smoking

Strictly observe the “no smoking” policy on flights. This issue is about more than simple etiquette but has become a requirement for all passengers according to airline regulations. If you are found smoking on a plane you will most likely be arrested. It is against the law and can result in hefty fines and/or jail time.

Strictly observe the "no smoking" policy on flights

Returning To Your Seat

Airplane bathroom doors open outward into the aisle, so open the door slowly when you exit the bathroom. Make your way carefully back up the aisle to your seat, where you can sit down and re-fasten your safety belt.


Final Thoughts on Airplane Bathroom Etiquette

We have all seen that passenger take off their shoes and prop their bare feet on the wall infront of them, or person who reached over you to pull down that visor on the window. Some things we simply can’t contol, but the little things can make a big difference. To quote my favorite children’s book: Everyone Poops. (I am still waiting to see a two hump camel make a two hump poop…)

We hope that all passengers remember to respect airplane bathroom etiquette – or else they might end up being scolded by the flight attendant. With a little bit of consideration and common sense, you can make sure your next trip to the plane restroom is as pleasant and smooth as possible. So, follow these guidelines and fly high, my friends!

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2 thoughts on “Flying High: How to Respect Airplane Bathroom Etiquette

  1. Can I light my farts on fire whilst in the bathroom if I hand write a formal note and tape it to the outside door?

    1. LOL — go ahead and try it but please check back and let us know how it went!

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