Should Coach Passengers Use the First Class Lavatory?

JT Genter writes that American Airlines doesn’t have a policy against coach passengers using the first class lavatory on domestic flights or flights departing the U.S.

  • But that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

  • And it doesn’t make it a good idea, either.

Other airlines may have different rules. Other countries may have different rules. And those rules will apply to American Airlines flights flying back to the U.S. In 2015 a coach passenger was arrested for using a business class lavatory on a Vienna – Abu Dhabi flight.

A flight attendant may tell you to stay in your ticketed cabin and failure to comply with crewmember instructions violates 14 C.F.R. 121.317(k).

I get that American Airlines doesn’t want this to happen or more likely though they’d like it if flight attendants did their jobs they’re unwilling to put them in the position of having to do extra work – like keep customers in their ticketed cabin unless it’s legally required.

But if a flight attendant tells you not to use the first class lavatory, don’t do it.

That said the right answer is that:

  • Passengers should use the lavatory in their ticketed cabin first
  • First class passengers should have priority for the forward lavatory
  • However during drink service on a single aisle aircraft passengers blocked from walking back to the lavatory should be able to use the closest lav.
  • And in an emergency you use whatever is available. Starbucks employees have just learned that lesson.

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. Gary. I am one of “those” people. When I am in first class I do not want some interloper from steerage using my bathroom

    However, when I am stuck in economy, I am free and entitled to use whatever restroom is closest

  2. In the spirit of Starbucks political correctness, first class airplane seating and lavatories should be free to use by anyone, paying customer or not, and all airlines should be shut down for a day to educate staff on the policy.

  3. JT from TPD was dead wrong and totally uninformed. AA is also shrinking the size of lavs in their B737 Max 8 aircraft as well. The first class lav is now a joke.

  4. “writes” is the cross-linked word rather than the author or some topical text 😉 Next level anti-seo

    And also, agree with your cascade of rules for bathroom use. Ultimately it’s antisocial to tell someone it’s not ok to use a vacant bathroom when they need to go.

  5. People should use the lavatory in which their seat is located in.

    One of the reasons I pay more to travel in First/Business Class is so that I don’t have to wait to use the lavatory another reason, I want a more intimate cabin experience and having people come and go in and out of the cabin for whatever reason diminishes that experience.

  6. If I’m in the first row of economy (bulkhead) then usually the first class/business class toilet is the nearest toilet so I’m not going to the back of the plane. As I’ve told BA in the past, the shit is going to the same place.

  7. I’ve used a mid cabin lav when flying first and got some nasty looks.
    I could care less

  8. The poop and urine from first class pasengers are far more valuable than those sittng in ecocnomy class.
    They Are all

  9. Until the airlines stops cramming people like sardines into the economy seats I do not see the problem, especially in single isle planes, like most I avoid using the bathrooms at all if possilbe, but on long flights sometimes its a must.

    noticed the baths are getting smaller too, just like the seats, eventually people are going to say enough is enough, one the first person is successful in proving a DVT or other caused by beining crammed into seats things will change, but knowing the airlines they will be able to delay, delay delay any changes.

  10. I was in the second row outside of 1st class and “my” bathroom was in the back of the plane and also blocked by the service cart. So I just asked the flight attendant walking out of 1st class if I’m allowed to use that restroom (pointing to 1st class) and she nodded yes and it was no big deal then.
    Ask and ye shall receive. Knock, and the 1st class bathroom shall be opened to ye.

  11. Not SAFE to have multiple people from the back in-line near cockpit and/or FA galley. Called rushing or staging. TSA advise US airlines that pax must use tix cabin lavatories to protect the safety of aircraft inflight, hello!

  12. Again I repeat, not safe to have multiple people in-line near cockpit and FA galleys.

  13. In response to Aloha Dave I am assuming you fly in the main cabin. I worked hard all my life to be able to fly as I choose. In the old days when there was a door this was never an issue with the advent of 911 that went away and it’s wide open. While I am not opposed when there is a food cart in the single isle I am not happy being pushed aside as someone from the main cabin going to the bathroom up front. Sorry have seen it many times.

    Aloha Dave pretends that it’s an entitlement for anyone. Well in life you get what you earn.

    This all happens mainly on US metal go international and you don’t see this issue at all which is one of many reasons I fly foreign flags when traveling international. Besides wanting real service and a FA with a halfway decent attitude.

    Sorry Gary for the rant

  14. My own personal tic is that I want people to follow the rules. Stop texting once the cabin announcement has been made to disable cellular. Use the bathroom they tell you to use. I get this dumb angry feeling (maybe lost entitlement?) when a coach passenger walks swiftly past my biz seat to use the unoccupied bathroom at the front of the plane. But I’m 90% sure that if they said “everyone can use any bathroom” I wouldn’t care about it.

  15. Anyone should be able to use any bathroom. Two bathrooms for less than 20 people and two bathrooms for everyone else is bs. Why are people so territorial?? When I’m in first class and some kid needs to use the bathroom, he should be entitled. First class people shouldn’t be snobs. They pay for the seat only.

  16. I have a disability that makes it difficult to walk from the front coach to the rear restrooms. I consider it a reasonable accommodation to use the front restrooms. I have never gotten static from flight attendants or first class passengers. Sometimes the flight attendants tell me to use the front.

  17. Yo Gar
    How about something a little more, um, important?

    Like what is going in Managua at the counters?

  18. @ghostwriter#### I sincerely hope that you re-read @AlohaDaveKennedy’s comment again and you slowly realize that it was intentionally written tongue-in-cheek. Lighten up and enjoy your day!

  19. @colleen, you can’t help someone who is mad for being alive. They don’t want to ever ‘enjoy the day’!

  20. From my observation, on domestic flights, AA cabin crew actually demonstrate common sense here. Typically, they do not allow coach customers to queue in the FC cabin, but make them wait behind the curtain in Coach.
    It is also common sense that when the beverage cart is in the aisle, where are folk to go except forward?
    All that said: this issue is frankly why I no longer fly Delta. That, and their 737-900s. I pay for my FC seats and expect to have a better flight experience for the significantly extra money That includes not joining a lengthy queue for the lavatory. Delta’s 737-900s have three lavs in back, one in front. However, when passengers in back see folk heading to the lav in front, where are they going to go? During meal service on a DL 737-900 flight I once had seven passengers in line in FC. I mentioned it to the flight attendant who told me that they had been instructed not to close the curtain or direct passengers to the rear lavs as “elites in back complain when they can’t use the FC lav”. Hmmmmm…
    I was PO’d enough with Ed Bastion by then, who as far as I am concerned could not better tell me he didn’t give a flying f*** for my FC business. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I am now CK on AA, loving it. I will be killing my DL Amex at renewal too.
    I had 600K actual miles last year, probably puts me low man on the totem pole for readers of this blog, but about 2/3s of that used to be Delta’s domestically and internationally. That’s what a dumb-ass lav policy cost them, at least from my wallet.

  21. I wasn’t going to get into this until I read this:

    “Kris D says:
    Anyone should be able to use any bathroom…They pay for the seat only.”

    Says who – Kris D., making his own new rules? Just – No.

    When I’m in F its because I want all the amenities, and to get away from coach, and associated problems. Not ashamed to admit the obvious.

    When I’m in coach, do I feel entitled to help myself to the benefits of F? No.

    Also obviously, there are common sense exceptions. People who are unwell when aisle is blocked. Disabilities. If you have common sense you know it when you see it.

    Otherwise I try to follow the rules and expect others to do the same. I am not sympathetic to Bubba – or Kris – who can’t keep track of how much beer they’ve processed, and don’t feel like waiting in line or respecting rules.

  22. Seriously, first class passengers need to get over themselves. You did not purchase exclusive rights to the bathroom. Sometimes you just might try to understand that there may be a necessity involved.

  23. Bottom line if you don’t have a first class ticket then stay the hell out of the first class lav. Not complicated. If I spend the extra money for first class I don’t want to have to wait in my seat because some passenger from coach is occupying the restroom. They had a choice and they bought an economy ticket so they can just wait, which is what i do when flying in economy. If the restroom in economy breaks down then that is an exceptional circumstance, but really people need to be able to wait instead of thinking they are entitled to wander through a cabin of service they did not pay to be in. On a domestic flight with short air time this is less of an issue.

  24. @Kris D Absolutely not. People in first class pay for all the associated amenities including not having to wait behind a line of people in economy to use a restroom. It wouldn’t even occur to me to go into first class if I was an economy passenger. Not sure why you think you are entitled to do so.

  25. Hey @Bill, how about you piss up a rope???? If a kid has to go to the bathroom, instead of peeing his or her pants, they should be able to use the lavatory. Also I fly first a lot for you info, it’s people like you who think they are entitled for sure. You are just the first class snob I was referring to. #pissoff

  26. When one can’t advance an argument with logic ad hominem and childish personal attacks always work better @kris d?
    Why don’t you elevate the quality of your argument instead of the volume?
    Or.. don’t drink and post.

  27. @ Kris D, if you bought a steerage ticket, you stay in steerage. If I see you trying to sneak into my clean lavatory up in first, I’ll grab you by your shirt collar and launch you back to where you came from.

  28. First class is more than just the seat. It’s an entire experience. It’s about having priority at the security lines. It’s about boarding the plane first (or in any order you like). It’s about getting off the plane as soon as it lands. It’s about having plenty of room for your carry-ons. It’s about having plenty of legroom. It’s about having actual measurable degrees of recline. It’s about meal service (such as it is). It’s about free, unlimited, proactive refills on drinks (alcoholic or otherwise), served immediately upon request. Even the hot, moist towel is a nice touch.

    The access to the lav is a small part of that experience. People in first don’t tend to wait in lines for it. First of all, there are fewer people trying to use it at any one time, and secondly, if it’s occupied, it’s just as easy to wait in your seat and go one at a time. There isn’t the pressure of knowing there’s an impatient horde waiting outside the door. I also don’t have people brushing past me the entire flight. Letting people from coach into the first class cabin for any reason dilutes the value of the experience. For the purposes of emergencies or logistics, exceptions can obviously be made, and nobody would complain. Beyond that, if you want to enjoy the perks of first class, then purchase a ticket in first class.

  29. A version of this issue was addressed during the last season of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” with Larry David.

    “Being Coachy”

  30. As a retired businessman , I spent the last 40 years flying around the world in business and first class . First and Business toilets have always been off limits for economy/coach passengers ( and as others say -rightly so ) , but I found it was never a problem in the past for economy/coach passengers to use the first and business toilets , in an emergency most crew agreed if people asked nicely . Passengers were respectful, spoke to crew nicely and kept the toilets clean .
    Now, people think it is their right , they verbally abuse the crew and they leave toilets in a mess……………. SO, it does not surprise me that airlines are clamping down and asking economy /coach passengers not to use them .
    Unfortunately , as I am retired, I mostly fly economy/coach now.!!

  31. Danny Alsaka DOES NOT do it right. they began years ago allowing main cabin to use the forward lav. Then I noticed on several flights of late when a cockpit crew was using the lav while for security a FA would stand blocking anyone from getting up there some have been serving passengers in FC and or standing on the side eating. I wrote AS about this and their reply was they could continue limited service while “keeping an eye” on the lav/cockpit door. HMMMM That answer was from a senior person in their customer service dept.

  32. Looks like a touched a nerve in some people on here. It is my opinion and I’m entitled to it, looks like everyone thinks I shouldn’t be. Dang, there goes that darn entitlement again. I just call it as I see it and if you don’t like it well…. I guess too bad for you. I guess you want to stop people from walking through the cabin or coming in the door as first class owns them as well. Have a good day. hahahaha I hope you all get riled up. As I said, when I am in first class, I would never want to deny anyone the right to use a lavatory.

  33. @kris D, you’ve never flown first class in your life. You’re a steerage kind of gal.

  34. FC lavs without long lines are one of the few perks F still offers…along with priority security, priority boarding, ample bin space, bigger seats, more legroom, hot towels, free drinks, meals, and purportedly better service from FAs. The F passengers pay for the perks—via pricier tickets, cash or mileage upgrades, or earned status upgrades. When in steerage, I never use the F lav as I did not pay for it, and am not entitled to use it, as much as I would like to. Of course, exceptions with FA permission should be allowed for the handicapped or true emergencies. Those in the back would never take food off the tray of a passenger in F (maybe those who believe they are “entitled” might); so why is there any justification for being anywhere in a cabin one is not ticketed in?

  35. This blog post and some of the comments have convinced me that airlines need to start employing bouncers (one per flight) who stand in between premium cabins and steerage. I don’t pay thousands of dollars to watch the riff-raff in steerage come up and use my bathroom. Keep your stinky butts in the back.

  36. @George, I hope I end up one day in the seat next to you pal!! You have no idea anything about me.
    I just happen to be a kind FC flyer.

  37. “Turns Out, Everyone Can Use First Class Bathrooms on American Airlines Flights”

    Condé Nast Traveler on-line published this article on June 4, 2018 (this site won’t allow the URL in the comments section here or in the website space below) . Is this new information, or did Condé Nast Traveler just rehash the news items of 2007 — which would have been before USAir purchased American Airlines.

    Has premium cabin service and culture changed since the US-AA merger? Apparently America West (the airline that bought USAir) did not originally offer “First Class” on its flights.

  38. Using the lav in another cabin if a crewmember tells you not to is not inherently a 121.317(k) violation (unless the seat belt sign is on and they’re telling you not to use any lav and instead go sit down and buckle up or you’re smoking.) Pilot here. 14 CFR 121.317(k) does not apply to just any crewmember instruction.

    Specifically, it says this:

    “Each passenger shall comply with instructions given him or her by a crewmember regarding compliance with paragraphs (f), (g), (h), and (l) of this section.”

    Paragraphs (f), (g), (h), and (l) are all either about wearing seatbelts when the sign is on ((f) and (l)) or not smoking ((g) and (h).)

    For issues unrelated to wearing your seatbelt or smoking, the only potential CFR violation is of 14 CFR 121.580, which says:

    “No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember’s duties aboard an aircraft being operated under this part.”

    (“under this part” means the flight is a part 121 operation, which covers flights by U.S. scheduled air carriers.)

    What they’ll get you on is the “interfere with a crewmember in the peformance of the crewmember’s duties” part (unless you assault, threaten, or intimidate them, in which case they’ll get you on that, too.)

    If you assault or intimidate a crew member, you may also be charged with a felony under 49 USC 46504, which says:

    “An individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both. However, if a dangerous weapon is used in assaulting or intimidating the member or attendant, the individual shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

  39. Call me old fashioned, but I think it’s a question of good manners.
    If I pay to sit in any class, I expect to get whatever that comes with.
    First/ business may have chauffeur pick up, extra bags, terminal lounge access, priority boarding / disembarking, better food, comfier seats, better leg room, cleaner & better availability to the bathrooms, priority luggage ( though that seems to have long gone out the window) less people walking by & bumping into you just as you finally get to sleep etc.
    If I can’t afford to pay more than economy, then good manners & common sense tells me that I’m not entitled to use any of the facilities above.
    I can’t check into my cheap seat using the first/ bus class desk , unless invited by staff to do so.
    I can’t pick any seat I fancy on the plane.
    I can’t order from that menu…
    Why would I think it’s ok to use the bathrooms in another class?.
    Sure, if you honestly need to go NOW, (and with IBS that happens way too often!) and the eco loos have a long line, have the manners to ask staff first.
    Even in business, I have been made to wait in my seat if the pilot/ co pilot need to use it. Safety & security measures, I understand. I’d be more uncomfortable if we crash landed in a forest. So I’ll wait.
    Common sense & good manners.

  40. I am disabled and frequently sit in the bulkhead seats with more room. It is very difficult for me to walk the distance of a stretch jet to the rear lavatories. it would be extremely difficult for me if the first class lavatory is prohibited.

  41. If I wanted rabble in my restrooms, I would fly coach. They need a gate between the first and steerage class.

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