Should Coach Passengers Use the First Class Lavatory?

Is it clearly unacceptable for a coach passenger to use the lavatory in a forward cabin?

    “Use the lavatory in your ticketed class of service, first class bathrooms are for first class passengers.”

Or is it clearly fine?

    “You paid for a first class seat not a bathroom, and basic human needs should be met in the most efficient way possible.”

On domestic flights I’ve certainly heard announcements asking passengers to use the lavatories in their “ticketed cabin” only. And in the modern flight world you don’t want to disregard flight attendant instructions regardless of their merit. You could find yourself in Guantanamo.

(There are other interesting lavatory restrictions, such as Virgin Australia’s ‘women only’ lav as well.)

And yet I’ve rarely seen passengers follow that admonition on US domestic flights, nor have I seen flight attendants seek to enforce that very often either.

I’m usually sitting up front, and there are certain times when there’s heavy demand for the lavatory — usually just after meal time as trays are being cleared (because everyone has been sitting awhile, and is finally freed to get up) and also just prior to landing. You don’t want greater demand for ‘your’ lavatory.

But there’s also fewer passengers per toilet up front than in back. There are often lines in the back of the plane. Does your first class ticket entitle you to priority access to a toilet?

What about during drink service in the economy cabin, when the drink cart is blocking the aisle especially on a narrow body aircraft? If you’re towards the front of the plane you’re not going to be able to pass the drink cart. If you can’t go forward to the first class lav, you can’t go at all until drink service is done. Does that make it ok to use the first class lavatory?

Qatar Airways A380 First Class Lavatory

When I first started traveling for work there would be a curtain drawn between first and coach class on domestic flights. People rarely crossed through the curtain. The removal of the curtain post-9/11 seems to have changed the norm against coming forward, even when a sheer screen re-appeared between cabins.

There’s also a totally different norm on domestic versus international flights and even on US carriers versus some other world airlines. A year and a half ago a coach passenger on airberlin was arrested for using the business class lavatory!

Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Lavatory

Has what’s appropriate behavior actually changed, and is it different in different parts of the world?

My own view is that passengers should be accommodated in their ticketed cabin first. But extenuating circumstances — a drink cart blocking the lavatory, a long line — make it ok to use the lavatory in a different cabin. You don’t want this to happen.

That’s not the same thing as “I’m sitting in the bulkhead row of coach and the first class bathroom is closer.” In other words, courtesy and deference to ticketed cabin are appropriate but absolute prohibitions – and absolute rights – are not. (One Congressman believes use of a lavatory actually is a right and so introduced legislation to forbid airlines from charging for it — even though none ever have.)

Emirates A380 First Class Lavatory

Regardless it’s usually ok to use the lavatory when the seat belt sign is on what’s more important is what it smells like when you’re done. (Here’s how to fix a stinky lav.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I think the etiquette here is simple. If the cart is in the aisle or it is a bathroom emergency, ok, of course.

    If not, then NO!

  2. I only use the first class bathroom if a cart is blocking the aisle. Otherwise, I wait in line in the back.

  3. A first class bathroom is part of the service amenities one receives when paying fir first class. I find it annoying and inexcuseable while im eating lunch or having a drink there is a line of pastel wearing polyester people waiting to yse the toilet in First. Of course opening and closing the door and adding to the odors. The best is upon exit, just when the FA is high in the middle of services , they want to start a conversation about what the FA likes most about flying.

  4. A first class bathroom is part of the service amenities one receives when paying for first class. I find it annoying and inexcuseable while im eating lunch or having a drink there is a line of pastel wearing polyester people waiting to use the toilet in First with backsides right in my face. Of course opening and closing the door and adding to the odors. The best is upon exit, just when the FA is high in the middle of services , they want to start a conversation about what the FA likes most about flying.

  5. As someone who frequently sits up front… a bathroom is a bathroom. Seems obnoxious to expect a fellow passenger to wait when a bathroom is available. At the most basic level, we are all in that flight together.

  6. Once again, this appears to be a U.S. issue that I have as yet to notice in Europe.

    Bathrooms should be by designated class so they are available to those passengers. Only in the U.S. do people express their entitlement to do whatever, including lining up in the aisle of F Class on domestic flights. Such overuse tends to trash the F Class lav, and their are never enough coffee grounds to fog the after effects of problematic GI systems.

    Only emergency condition should the curtain be pulled back from coach. But than again, it typically is never closed anymore, and when issues are raised to the FAs, their mantra is that “it’s a new FAA ruling.”

  7. My snobby side says use your ticketed bathroom, but in reality I don’t really care. Air Canada frequently sends people to the “right” bathroom and I think that’s a bit rude. People usually go forwards because of the cart.

  8. I would prefer to have a passenger poo or pee in the toilet rather than poo or pee on their seat cushion. You get less smell in the cabin and a happier passenger flight experience.

  9. I was once sitting in business class on an international flight and accidentally tried to use the bathroom in first class (I’d only ever flown business in a 2 cabin airplane previously and assumed the only bathroom for the premium cabins was up front) and got SCREAMED AT by the flight attendant that I wasn’t allowed to use that bathroom. I was six months pregnant at the time and pretty horrified that I was yelled at when it was an honest mistake!

  10. If there’s a line for the lavatory in my “class” I don’t hesitate to use a free one. Whether I’m going from economy to the business lass lavatory, or vice versa. If there’s a line for both I stay in my ticketed cabin.

  11. I think you got this one right, Gary. First class passengers didn’t just pay for the seat, they paid for the entire experience. The first class lav is theirs, exclusively, except in case of an urgent need or emergency. We’d have to take a tresspasser’s word on that, though.

  12. Tough it will rarely happens, there’s also a chance a coach class passenger got into bussines/first class lavatory and took provided amenities thereto not intented for them, especially in long haul flight. Surely nobody wants that to happened and everybody is trying so hard to prevent such incident even able to take place….

  13. The rift raft from coach should not be using the first class lavatories unless they pay a fee for doing so.

  14. How about the other way around? What about if you’re in first class and use the bathroom in the back of the plane? Often that’s the only place there is a changing table. Or what if you just feel like going for a walk?

  15. If the aisle is blocked by a cart, or there is a line for the lav in back, it’s totally fine to use one in FC. If anyone asks why I am using it, I’ll respond with, “Do you want me to **** on the floor right here? Because that’s what’s going to happen if you make me wait.”

  16. They really should have a ladies lav. I fly in business/first about 70% of the time. I have no problem with someone using the bathroom in any lav. Using the “economy class should stay out of the first class lav” theory I can’t walk to the back of the plane to stretch my legs, sometimes I use the bathroom. I do that about once every 3 hours.

  17. I have a back disability which limits me to using a larger room. Usually the toilets in Economy or premium Economy don’t allow me the ability to use them. I have to buy a business class ticket in order to use the bigger room. If the toilets in the back of the plane had at least one larger toilet, I wouldn’t have to pay thousands more just to use a toilet. A lot of my flights are 8 to 16 hours long.

  18. No! One of the reasons I choose to fly First Class is because of the intimate cabin.

    Stay in your ticketed cabin people!

    I really wish cabin crew would announce this more often.

  19. Gary’s response is spot-on, but I think we’re hefting the blame from the airlines, who should be spending the money for (at least) better placement AS WELL as a better job of policing and enforcing “your cabin-your lavatory”. I don’t know enough about engineering, but what about one bathroom in back, one bathroom in front OF COACH rather than the current placement? Isn’t it all just about an airline money grab in (again) putting just 2 bathrooms at the back of the plane for all of coach? Yes, okay, it’s fine on short haul flights, and yes, some international long haul’s do have more, but it’s the LA to NY flights that could benefit — both from a practical standpoint and a customer relations standpoint. We’re at the tipping point where airline greed has shown no bounds…at some point, hasn’t some airline executive said “hey, what about adding just one more lavatory on a plane? It would relieve stress on the entire flight AND keep our 1st class passengers happy” and not been laughed out of the room?

  20. Mark, the only rift raft is you . You speak like a damn fool. If the airlines don’t want you to use the bathroom they can easily put more bathrooms. Why don’t your privileged ads get a private plane where you want be bothered with rift rafts.

  21. Pet peeve of mine is not the using, but the waiting in the aisle beside me. The flight stewards seem to allow that. You then have your private area intruded by someone looking over your shoulder. Since I’m often working or reading, try imagiming having someone looking right over your shoulder. It’s quite disconcerting.

    Have them waiting at the aisle in coach.

  22. First class passengers are odor free
    Coach passengers have the stench of cattle
    Nothing worse then the stench of the working man
    Keep them behind with the barrier curtain
    From “Come Fly With Me” one of the funniest flying videos ever from the UK!!

    I suppose in a perfect world passengers stay in their ticketed cabin
    However I think with all the self entitled folks today ready to sue most FAs are afraid to confront folks but I have seen the ones that certainly do

  23. Seems like there has already been an article about this very topic. In any event barring some sort of extraordinary emergency (like the lav in coach is broken) people should be using the lav in their cabin. With first class you are paying for more than a seat, you are paying for the experience, for the food, for the lounge access, for the priority boarding and of course an easily accessible restroom that you don’t have to wait for. On domestic flights its not as big of a deal but there better be a damn good reason why someone from coach is in the first class lav on an international flight. Last thing I want while in first class is a bunch of coach passengers marching back and forth and trashing the lav, let alone having to wait in line behind a bunch of people from coach. I mean how hard is it to frickin wait? When flying coach I have NEVER gone into the first class cabin to use the lav. I wait my turn in coach.

  24. In essence, this is why I am flying Delta a *lot* less these days, esp. when it involves one of their 737-900s. I pay for my first class seats, where, IMO, I am buying a seat in a cabin that comes with certain perks. Delta quit even trying to enforce any sort of bathroom/cabin rules about when Bastion became CEO. Which is also about when 737-900s started replacing 75s on routes I fly.
    Delta cabin staff *never* close the curtain. Folk who don’t fly a lot see folk heading forward to the lav so where do they go? And the crew never point out that on the 737-900 there are *three* lavs in back.
    I have had as many as six in line when trying to eat a meal. It is the epitome of how Delta takes its paying first class passengers totally for granted.
    While AA may have other issues, at least, 95% of the time, they close the curtain. So, funny that, I’m on AA a lot more, which also means I’m booking and paying for international first class seats with them.
    Sometimes, yes, we vote with our dollars.

  25. Anyone who thinks the airlines are going to add more bathrooms is delusional. Right now they’re trying to cram more seats into the plane. The last thing the airlines want to do is add a bathroom. If it were up to airline management they would probably try and get rid of the bathrooms and add even more rows of seats. First class should be for first class passengers only or people with special needs who can’t get to the rear of the aircraft. Anyone else is just trespassing and should be turned in to airport security.

  26. Mark, sounds like you are trying to compensate for something?
    BTW, Mr. Elitist, it’s “riff raff”.

  27. When I get an upgrade to first class why should I be bothered by people in economy? If they want FC they should pay for it instead of trying to barge their way into the cabin and stink up the bathroom. It’s impossible to enjoy the meal service and a glass of wine while people linger about. People in economy also represent a security risk.

  28. @Mark “when I get an upgrade to first class” ….so you’re not paying for it either. Some news for you: Your put your pants on one leg at a time just like the trespassers who bother you.

  29. @Mark “when I get an upgrade to first class” ….so you’re not paying for it either. Some news for you: You put your pants on one leg at a time just like the trespassers who bother you.

  30. I agree 100% with your comments re Delta. I too have all but stoped flying first with them. Its pathetic. Delta First is a parade of entitled , taking up all my space, asses in my face, kids drooling all over me. Its a circus. I try to fly United First as they do enforce the cabin etiquette.

  31. The problem with this, as in all things when flying, is people. Passengers have become more entitled than ever. you should use the lav in your ticketed cabin ONLY.. i’m not buying all this “oh the cart is in the way so suddenly i’m going to **** myself”.. if you’re that incontinent you should have planned accordingly. That said, of course any bathroom should be accessible in a dire need. But the entitled brigade spoiled this long ago.. the “i’ll go through the curtain and use the loo of my choice” people.. the crew that just shrug and let it happen etc etc. The reason the F/C may be palatial in size, or even if its identical but just has a dumb flower in a tube, is to indicate its part of THAT cabin’s features. Its not rocket science but people will always try it on.

  32. I don’t think it has anything to do with the whole experience or whatever. The question should not be if it is okay to use the first class lav as an economy passenger but instead if it is okay to use the lav in the “other class” cabin.
    Maybe I am influenced by international flights where the policy is clearly expressed: “Federal regulations require …” Economy passengers should not enter the business class cabin and business class passengers should not enter the economy class cabin.
    Still I usually see lots of people using the “wrong” bathroom, especially when it is in the rear part of the business class cabin.

    If it were not for federal regulations I would not care about it where people go.

  33. I don’t think it’s just the FA’s attitudes that have gotten really bad, I think a lack of compassion and care for our fellow fliers has reached an all time low too. Do you really really care about having a bathroom reserved for the people up front?! seriously?
    I have way too many real life issues to worry about than which toilet is allocated for which people. it’s absolutely ridiculous imo.

    i pay for first a lot, and i could not give two hoots who uses the toilet. it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. my 2 cents.

  34. OK, here’s my pet peeve: if you are waiting for whatever reason in the aisle, it is not ok to push on the top of the back of my seat. I have a bad back and please believe me when I say this hurts! And worse for those who continue to do this. This goes to folks sitting behind me, who for some reason (like waiting to get seated upon arrival), can’t get up without doing this. How is it that I can stand without touching the seat in front of me, even with my bad back? And then dirty looks if I ask politely for them not to do so?

    I have heard FAs tell folks to go back to their bathrooms. And then other times, not. Since FC is usually small, I don’t get up and stand there, I wait until the previous occupant leaves. Sometimes not doable because someone in Coach decided to mosey up to the front of the plane and wait. Then I do get perturbed. I paid extra for that seat.

    Oh and GUYS!!! Another pet peeve, no matter which bathroom. PUT THE TOILET SEAT DOWN!!!!!!!!!!!! AND FLUSH!!!!!!!

  35. I get rather irritated when a female passenger goes into the lavatory (either class) and hour before landing to apply makeup for 45+ minutes!

  36. Mark, thank God for self-entitled elitist jackasses – it’s what Made America Great Again.

  37. I was in Icelandair’s comfort class, just outside the saga class curtain and I went up there to use it. A female passenger from coach asked me if it was okay, I told her yes so she then ventured up there. We are all on that flight together! If the plane were to crash and there were survivors in need, I wouldn’t hesitate trying to save a business class passenger so they’d best never stick their noses up at me. I’m taking a pee, regardless.

  38. Holy c*ap I can’t believe what I am reading here.
    People should be turned in to airport security for using the wrong bathroom? Seriously?

    Some people here like to feel much more important than what they really are… Paying for first class seat does not make you more important…

    And yes I fly in first class regularly but come on, stop being selfish jerks making people wait just for self satisfaction!

    Can’t believe this

    Fortunately there are a few good replies here from good people…

  39. B.S pay for what you want and quit exstapulating from others that try to make a difference in their lives and the people they influence. The FC peeps are more achievers than the rest of the passengers unless they are just cheap. Your choice and ability is a ford escort or a Cadillac Escalade

  40. It’s not able being more important, it’s about what I paid a premium for.

    I paid extra for a more comfortable seating area, to be able to board first and get situated apart from a crush of other passengers, to be able to eat a meal served on a china plate and not out of some bento-box-style thing…and to have a less busy cabin with a better chance of not having to wait to use a restroom.

    Importance doesn’t come into it. It’s a privilege that’s paid for.

    Of course, in an emergency, people shouldn’t hesitate to use whatever facility is available, but people being what they are, they can’t be trusted to police themselves (and no, “the cart is blocking the aisle” is not, in itself, an emergency).

    My preference would be an FA positioned, as much as possible, right at the entrance to first class, like a bouncer, with the curtain closed. Someone wants in, they’ve got to explain it to the FA.

    Personally, I think this would cut into a good portion of encroachment; having the curtain open and a clear path visible to the first class facility is akin to an open invitation to some folks.

  41. Ironically, the holier than thou of you who feel like people from coach should not be in the FC bathroom are probably also those that got upgraded on miles. It’s a flippin loo for g’d sake! It’s not like the unwashed masses are trying to poop in your on-suite. This is a disgusting display of people at their worst…but then again, let me guess y’all support Trump too!

  42. It is absolutely NOT OK to use the F lav if you are not an F pax.

    Part of the benefit and service of F is that you get a lav with a shorter wait time, and in many cases, a bigger one with more ammenities inside. Another part is having a less crowded section of the cabin, where there is less foot traffic walking past you.

    Unfortunately, in US Domestic the FA’s tend to be lax in enforcing the presence of non-F passengers in the F cabin, and Americans, being who we are, like to disregard obvious barriers like the thin screen when our own interests blind us to the fact that the rules apply to us as well. I have seen people unbutton the screen from the snaps and proceed forward and FA’s do nothing about it.

    If you want a closer bathroom, buy an F ticket or get one closer to the coach lavs. That lav up front is NOT for you, and using it is akin to theft of service.

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