In the unregulated tiny airline lav context, is it time for urinals?


Airline lavatories are getting smaller. Whether that’s the Collins Aerospace 737 Advanced Lavatory with its wall cutout and minuscule sink, the convertible Airbus Space-Flex pair of lavs at the rear bulkhead of the A320 family, the alternative SKYPAX version offered by Diehl, or others, the trend is to minimize the space available.

That’s a problem for many passengers. People with reduced mobility, wheelchair users, those with particular disabilities, people taller or wider than the average, and senior citizens are not being well served by airlines, airframers and interiors suppliers.

Part of the problem is that airline lavatories are unacceptably under-regulated. There is no minimum lavatory requirement, and as occasional but regular shock among passengers on smaller single-lavatory aircraft dispatched with the bathroom inoperable shows, it is perfectly legal to fly without a lavatory at all.


Until now, the answer has been either not to serve these travelers — most Boeing 737s do not have an accessible lavatory, for example, and only some Airbus A320 family do via a Space-Flex style solution, since narrowbodies are not legally required to do so — or use convertible lavatories, in the style of Space-Flex on narrowbodies or the more traditional movable-wall lavatory on widebodies.

This kind of lack of provision is unsatisfactory at a point in time where airlines are using narrowbody aircraft for longer and longer routes that lavatories are not accessible. Including ground transfer times, expecting any passenger simply to “hold it” for nine or ten hours is simply unacceptable.

Requiring flight attendants to convert two mini-lavs into one lavatory suitable for PRM use, meanwhile, is certainly not an ideal situation, and is not in the spirit of designing passenger experience to remove barriers.

Space is a concern for airlines, of course, especially when many lavatories are in space that could otherwise be used for paying seats.

But one option that both allows for space savings and to increase capacity could be to add urinals, something tried recently only on Lufthansa’s Airbus A380, and then only in the lavatories in front of first class, which also have a sit-down loo.

Zodiac, now Safran, entered its Durinal in last year’s Crystal Cabin Awards. Image: Safran

Urinals wouldn’t be unprecedented in modern, best-practice transportation. Long-distance Japanese trains, including the Shinkansen bullet trains, often offer urinals as part of their lavatory provisions, often alongside a sit-down lavatory and in many cases a fully wheelchair-accessible lavatory.

Airplane urinals could cut queues and increase cleanliness of sit-down lavs. Image: Safran

These urinals have doors, usually bifold, that ensure privacy while still taking up a substantially smaller footprint. Frequently, they also offer grab bars, and their size means that, for some passengers with unsteady balance, they are preferred over larger lavatories where more space means more risk of falling over.

Since urinals take up less room, there’s an opportunity for airlines to provide one larger loo and one smaller urinal, in a two-thirds/one-third sort of situation. If necessary, though as a less desirable solution, the urinal could also have a foldable internal wall to form part of the convertible lavatory. This may be a way to resolve the issues of Space-Flex-style products offering too-small mini-lavs while also providing some PRM access.

Replacing one reasonably sized widebody lav may not be the crucial use case for airline urinals. Image: Safran

Questions of equity arise between passengers able to use a urinal and those who cannot, of course. On a strictly gendered basis bathrooms dedicated to women provide fewer spaces and a lower user throughput than those dedicated to men. Facilities dedicated to the use of passengers able to stand to urinate must consider these issues of equity.

But the option of urinals can bring benefits to those using a sit-down lavatory as well: cleaner floors for the sit-down lavs, for one, and shorter wait times if a substantial proportion of passengers in line can pop into a urinal to remove themselves from the queue.

Urinals may be part of the solution — but can only be a part if considered as a gestalt whole. Regulators, airframers, airlines and interior suppliers need to address the unsatisfactory lavatory status quo as a matter of some urgency.

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