9 Steps for Bathroom Use in Flight

We did some traveling recently, and that included some long flights. As usual for me, a few hours into the flight, I needed to use the bathroom. The battle began, as I mustered up my courage to get the job done. If you’ve used the bathroom in flight, you might relate to some or all of this experience.

Here are my strategies to successfully manage the task:

#1 Time it perfectly. Don’t go too early and risk having to go again during the flight. Don’t wait too long because I can count on a line forming right about the time I sense some urgency. Anticipate a beverage cart to hurdle, nature calling many other passengers, or any other number of delays from that moment I decide it is time to go, and plan ahead.

#2 Alert those in your row that you need to get out. I love the window seat. So I’m the party pooper that will need to disturb, wake-up, use hand motions, and do almost whatever it takes to disrupt the middle seat and aisle seat people. They put up their tray tables, stand up, and move out of my way. Twice. When I leave and upon my return. I tell myself how unpopular I am in those moments. I am the potty princess and I must be obeyed, or at least that’s how I feel, and that makes me uncomfortable. They get over it. I am grateful for their cooperation. I mumble, “Sorry. Excuse me. Thank you,” as I make my way past them now standing in the aisle.

#3 Begin the casual stroll to the nearest restroom. Ironically, the bathroom I’m permitted to use is often two to three times as far from my seat as the first class restroom, but we are a land of laws that must be followed. The first class passengers pay a whole lot more to be close to the bathroom, so they deserve the privilege. I’ll take the long walk to the tail of the plane. It’s inconvenient, but more of a bargain.

#4 Dodge the obstacles. It amazes me how complicated it gets to walk down the aisle without disturbing others or feeling awkward. I am not a tiny woman, and that does not help. Here are some of the typical obstacles I’ve encountered in moving down the aisle in an airplane.

  • The guy deeply asleep with his head tipping into the aisle, mouth open, who also has his one leg and large foot sticking out into aisle space.
  • The people headed back to their seats, like salmon swimming upstream.
  • The beverage cart and flight attendant.
  • The woman holding the finally sleeping baby at her chest, whose elbow is now undoubtedly breaking the plane of the seat and poking into the aisle. To bump her risks waking the baby.
  • The people on their laptops, working or watching a movie. Why is it open laptops always seem to ever so slightly protrude into the aisle? Along with usually one elbow? I desperately do not want to knock into a laptop lid. That’s an expensive bump.

I step sideways and slide cautiously, carefully, to the rear of the plane, threading the needle that is the very long aisle.

#5 Plan to wait in line. Both bathrooms were occupied on my recent flight and there were three people in front of me. The bathroom on the left emptied and in went person #1. It emptied again and person #2 went in. The bathroom on the right was still occupied. Waiting. Waiting. The bathroom on the left emptied again and person #3 took his place inside. Still no changing of the guard in the bathroom on the right. I’m not going in there after a human has been in their as long as this. Unless the person opened their Kindle book on their phone inside, settled in to read, and had lost track of time, what could possibly take that long? Don’t answer that. I pleaded silently, “Please, please, please don’t let that be the next bathroom door to open, leaving it my only choice.”

Then it happened. I might have heard the angel choir sing that one perfectly harmonized chord they sing when something great happens. Both bathroom doors opened at the same time. I grabbed the one on the left and headed in locking it behind me, as I sympathetically passed by the sweet old man who had exited the one on the right. It is challenging to be older in so many ways, but I still did not want to use that restroom right after his long stay.

#6 Prepare the seat. The lid was down. I used a paper towel to lift the lid and the seat lifted, too. I carefully grabbed the seat with my paper towel, separating it from the lid and lowered it. I was kind of disgusted by all of this touching of toilet parts. Touching most things in an airplane bathroom is disgusting and we are better off not thinking about it.

#7 Prepare yourself to be seated. Pants lowered. Bareness brushing against the wall or sink is not great. Those bathrooms are so narrow, it is highly likely others have also bumped against those same places in their own semi-bareness. Where are my travel-size Lysol wall and counter wipes? The good news is that the narrowness of the bathroom does prevent wandering about and wasting time while others wait.

#8 Manage the motion. If you fly often, it is likely you will encounter a bit of bumps or light turbulence while in the bathroom or even on the toilet. Once seated, it is easier to manage. But while standing, while lowering or pulling up one’s pants, stabilizing is a bit of an art to be practiced at a vulnerable time. I remind myself that I’ve never fallen against the door and out into the aisle, pants around my ankles, so I can relax.

#9 Exit, hold your breath, suck in your stomach, and endure the butt brush past multiple people to return to your seat. Hands washed, it is time to head back to my seat. If no one else is in the aisle, I rejoice! However, I will most likely need to slide past other strangers in that narrow little aisle. I summon my courage and just keep moving as I invade personal space along the way. I will not push by someone front to front. That is just too awkward for me. So that leaves cheek to cheek. Thankfully, the social encounter does not last long and I recover. I’ve overcome the thought that I should at least introduce myself. Even if I was thin, I think this would still be a reality. It is a great moment when I can actually slip into a row out of the aisle for the pass-by, but with full flights, I’ve not experienced that option lately.

Perhaps I’ll never drink any liquids again within 48-hours of a flight.

Stay charming, my friends! Share your wisdom and travel stories in a comment.


  1. If you are a male reader, some of this may be easier for you. Be grateful.
  2. I cope with life through the lens of an Enneagram 9, someone who likes to keep the peace with those around her. If you are not an Enneagram 9, you respond differently, and probably easier to this scenario.