(First published on Cloud Surfing Kids; this post has been updated since its original posting in December, 2015)
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 cannot 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 per bathroom, and if there is a line and you are short on time before your flight, you may not have time to wait for one to be free. 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!
(Cloud Surfing Kids 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 since I do not want people in my pictures and people are suspicious if you’re taking photos in the bathroom!) because I am always delighted by the stalls with enough space to walk in with my bag and close the door. I silently award 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.
Terminal D is being remodeled, and when I traveled through there recently, I was nervous as I walked into the bathroom – did they keep the stall doors that open outward into the room? I am happy to report that they did! The new bathroom features bright colors and two rows of stalls with doors that open outward. The stalls seem slightly longer too, so with the length and the door opening out, I was easily able to bring my bag into the stall with me. The sink counter-tops are worthy of note too. I am often frustrated by sopping wet counters because water splashes everywhere and hand dryers or paper towels are across the bathroom from the sinks.
As I was looking in wonder at the new restroom and finding my phone so I could take some photos, another woman exclaimed, “This must have been designed by a woman!” She was amazed at the sink stations and how the paper towels were right by the sink.
Bright color and stalls that open out at PHL’s Terminal D bathrooms
Looking at the stalls at PHL from the other direction. The frosted glass windows allow some natural light to brighten the room.
Bright green tiles along the back of the stalls. The stalls are deep and the doors open outward (though the restrooms needed servicing).
The sinks at PHL terminal D restroom. Automatic faucet, soap dispenser and towel dispensers!
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! A shelf on the back wall of the stall to stow a bag! Automatic water and soap dispensers!
San Diego airport
SAN bathroom stall – could be deeper, but note the shelf above the toilet – with bars – to hold a bag
SAN bathroom stalls – plenty of room between stalls (tall doors – nice) and the sinks, so it would be nice if the stalls were deeper. Frosted glass windows add natural light
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 last year en route to London. The terminal was bright and airy, and so were the restrooms. An opaque window in the restroom allowed natural light to enter, and the stalls were deep.
Stalls at Charlotte airport – with frosted window providing natural light – and taller/longer doors
CLT bathroom stalls – deeper, and with a side shelf to place a purse is nice, but nothing to secure bag on the shelf
Sinks at CLT airport bathroom. Automatic faucet and soap dispenser with towel dispensers and trash cans next to the sinks!
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. Note the paper towel dispensers right above the sinks with holes in the counter to dispose them! Usually, trash cans are at the exit to the restroom, so after utilizing the sink, you must find a receptacle to dispose of your paper towels. And then you turn back to the sink to freshen up. Having trash cans built into the sinks keeps the sinks cleaner, and makes it easier to dispose of trash!
IAD bathroom stalls (note how ‘short’ the stalls are compared to Charlotte’s – less privacy)
IAD bathroom stall – wider than most but could be deeper
IAD bathroom sinks – nice to have automatic sinks and faucets with paper towels above and trash receptacle in one place
COS Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs is a smaller regional airport, and while the bathroom stalls are not particularly large, they are not crowded. Finding an open stall was not an issue, something I appreciate in smaller airports. I was particularly struck by the shelf with what I assume are coat hooks – a plus for traveling in the winter months with bulky outerwear.
COS bathroom stalls – not particularly deep
COS stall for disabled passengers – slightly wider stall and the door opens out
COS bathroom with coat hooks, shelf (for bags?) and electrical outlets
Airports with restrooms that could use improvement
DEN – Denver
Denver’s bathrooms are large, befitting a large airport, and they should receive bonus points for the amount of both stalls and sinks. However, the towel dispensers are opposite the sinks, as are the hand dryers. I think it would be more convenient, and perhaps efficient, to have the sinks and towel dispensers and hand dryers close to each other. On the opposite wall with the mirrors and a shelf, passengers can use the mirrors to freshen up. The current situation means that the mirrors are blocked from people drying their hands.
Plenty of stalls in DEN
Individual stalls at DEN were OK, but could be at least a few inches deeper.
DEN sinks and dryers. Only a small shelf – above the hand dryers.
DEN baby changing station
IAH – Houston
I was amazed at the space between the stalls and the sinks in Houston– I don’t know if someone expects a line of 10 people waiting outside each stall, but the stalls themselves are so short 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, and yet there is so much open space in the restroom itself.
Lots of open space in this Houston airport bathroom, but no room for larger stalls?
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, and in fact, they are being remodeled. But the stalls are older so I can’t fault them for not being deep.
LAX – Tom Bradley International Terminal
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 to provide that luxurious feel, the bathroom stalls are not very wide or deep for accommodating a wheeled bag.
LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal Star Alliance lounge bathroom stall – nice full length door but stall could be wider and deeper
LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal Star Alliance lounge bathroom sinks
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, and cut down on plastic waste.
I have spotted stations in SFO (San Francisco), SEA (Seattle-Tacoma) and ORD (Chicago O’Hare).
ORD O’Hare offers a water refill station connected to their water fountains. Eco-friendly!
Water bottle filling station at Seattle-Tacoma airport
Tips for using airport restrooms:
- If traveling with another person, take turns visiting the restrooms and watching each other’s bags. Bring only your purse and 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. Comment on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram page or on the Cloud Surfing Kids Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages. Send photos using the hashtag #bestairportstall. We will add a “best of” post as we get additional airport stalls that are noteworthy.