In this series, Stuff Travel takes on some of the biggest debates surrounding flight etiquette – and brings them to you to settle once and for all.
As a large (water) drinker with a microbladder, I have more than once been tempted to skip the economy class toilet lines and go straight to a better one in business or first class.
I’ve never actually done it, being too much of a biped to risk being berated by the cabin crew, but was I unnecessarily putting my bladder at risk of bursting? Is it wrong to use a toilet in another class? Especially when you’re unsure if you can keep going?
Aside from saving yourself from a potentially embarrassing situation, who wouldn’t rather relieve themselves in a larger bathroom with better amenities? If you can make it to a first-class loo in an Emirates A380, you can even treat yourself to a shower.
Got a flight etiquette issue you want us to solve? Email [email protected]
* Travel etiquette: Should you take your shoes off on a plane?
* Travel Etiquette: Is it a ruck to board before your turn is called?
* Airmageddon coming to New Zealand? Here’s what you need to know about flying at Christmas
Every once in a while, a “travel hack” pops up online claiming that economy class passengers are either fully eligible to use business or first class loos, or get away with it if they’re smart.
In late 2021, Kat Kamalani, who said she is a flight attendant, shared a video on TikTok offering three hacks to make an economy flight more comfortable. Tip number two: use the first-class toilets.
The comments make it clear that I was not alone in my confusion about onboard toilet etiquette.
“I’ve literally been on flights where it was announced that the first class toilets are for first class passengers only,” one person said. “Maybe that varies?”
“Try pulling this on most straps and it won’t fare as well,” wrote another.
Aviation expert Irene King said economy passengers generally cannot use the business and first class lavatories, but there might be times when this is acceptable.
“You pay for what you get, but there are exceptions, particularly where there is an urgent need. The crew manager or crew member responsible for the relevant area will normally make the call if they are aware of passengers who are transferring between classes.
“Occasionally, of course, the passenger will simply make the decision (to use a toilet in a different class). However, moving between segmented classes on the aircraft is discouraged.”
Hence the ropes and closed curtains between classes on some flights.
For example, Qantas reserves Business and First Class restrooms for passengers seated in these sections, but Economy customers can use them in certain circumstances, such as when there are fewer passengers. B. if their bathroom is not available.
Similarly, a Singapore Airlines spokesman said the airline “requests customers to use the bathrooms assigned to their travel cabin to ensure the comfort of all customers.”
Air New Zealand did not respond to an inquiry about its policy.
Some airlines’ policies are stricter than others, but even on flights that don’t specifically prohibit the use of lavatories in other classes, flight attendants can prevent you from doing so.
The comfort and convenience of business and first class passengers who have paid a premium for their seats and the perks that come with them is often feared. Many of these passengers are airline loyalists and therefore important to the bottom line. It is clear that many also do not appreciate it when economy passengers invade their territory.
At the Australian publication Executive Traveller’s community forum, a Qantas customer complained about an “invasion” of the business class toilet by economy passengers.
“Recently, on 737 business class flights, more and more economy passengers are strolling through business class and using the toilet,” the customer said. “On my last flight to Adelaide, an apparently intoxicated passenger did this three times without any resistance from the crew.”
While some pointed this out to the customer (“First world issues, hey???”), others indicated that they thought he made a fair point.
“Bring them back to where they paid I say,” one person wrote. “(Qantas) charges a premium for convenience and people pay for it with points and/or money.”
“One benefit of flying is that there is less waiting or queuing to use the bathroom, especially on longer flights,” said another. “Also less disruption from pedestrian traffic. Not the biggest deal in the world, of course, but something that might annoy an airline’s premium passengers.”
Another regular business class flyer said they noticed some “zealous observers” in economy class waited until the cabin crew were distracted before using the business loos.
“Personally, I regularly sit in business class on the 737, but that doesn’t bother me. I see it as if you have to go, then you have to go.”
If you have special needs or are afraid you’ll embarrass yourself before it’s your turn to use the economy loo, you’re essentially asking a flight attendant if it’s okay if you use one in advance. Otherwise, tighten your pelvic floor muscles and stand in line for the economy toilet.
What do you think? Be sure to vote in the poll above and let us know what you think in the comments.