Airport bathrooms have always been sketchy places, and not just because you might run into former Idaho Senator Larry Craig. Whether it’s a hand poking through a men’s room wall at the Hong Kong airport, someone replacing the soap with a bodily fluid in Detroit, or a collapsing toilet sending a man to the hospital in Hefei, China, these are places you’ve wanted to get in and out of as quickly as possible.
With the Covid-19 pandemic airport bathrooms have taken on a new urgency because of risk of virus spread. They’re a congregative setting that’s often poorly ventilated. And airports aren’t known for taking great care of them.
At Dallas Fort-Worth, for instance, when they renovated the A terminal they didn’t even refresh the bathrooms and when they re-do terminal C they’ve scaled back the budget so there’s no money to do the restrooms there, either.
Nice restrooms in airports are more common in Asia. For instance the men’s room on the G pier in Singapore’s terminal 4 ought to be a tourist destination in its own right.
Pittsburgh’s airport, though, is adopting a new technology so that they at least know when to clean the restrooms. They’ve “teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University to increase the efficiency” of their cleaning efforts by “calculat[ing] real-time, smarter cleaning schedules using artificial intelligence that takes into account when and where flights are coming in, how many people are using a restroom based on a beam that counts people as they approach, and, eventually, sensors that alert staff when soap needs to be refilled and garbage needs to be emptied.”
Why don’t they just increase the frequency of cleanings? Because the goal here isn’t just cleanliness. According to the airport’s Senior Vice President of Information Technology, they’re looking to cut cleaning costs, too.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take cleaning at the right time over not cleaning. But there are basics we should really do first, like the self-disposing toilet seat covers you’ll find at Chicago O’Hare.
Or even just making sure passengers can tell which restroom is for men and which is for women. (Note: this is especially important in North Carolina and Oklahoma.)
Credit: Jacksonville International Airport
Or, in the Spirit Airlines terminal in Fort Lauderdale, consider adding a sign over the urinals that says “don’t eat the big white mint.”
Or, like the low cost terminal in Austin, tell passengers to only use one urinal at a time.