United Airlines Crew Closes Down The Lavatory, “This Is For Pilots Only”

Live and Let’s Fly reports on a United Airlines flight where a pilot blocked off one of the two lavatories in business class, declaring it for “pilots only” and telling passengers that this was due to “security.”

This took place on a flight from Washington Dulles to Munich this week on board a Boeing 767-400, which has 34 business class seats and just two lavatories in that cabin. Business class passengers were limited to using a single lavatory during the flight, as one of the bathrooms was locked by the pilot during the flight while a line of passengers were waiting to use it.

As a passenger relayed to author Matthew Klint,

After dinner, I went to wait for the bathroom. Both were full. One of the pilots came out and locked the toilet. I asked what’s up as I was waiting for it. He said, “This is reserved for the pilots due to security.”

The claim about security was explained as somehow relating to the fact that there are no bathrooms between the cockpit and the passenger cabin – the closest two are in the rear of business class. And while flight attendants often use a galley cart to block the cockpit while pilots go in and out of the lavatory, that’s to secure the cockpit so passengers don’t try to enter rather than to physically separate the pilot from passengers.

I can understand a pilot want to make sure there’s always a lavatory available for their use because who wants to wait, seemingly less important than business class customers? The decision certainly wasn’t to limit the time any pilot is in the passenger cabin, though, since this aircraft doesn’t have a dedicated crew rest space – and so on longer flights one of the business class seats is simply designated for pilot use. There is normally a pilot in the passenger cabin!

The passenger on board sharing what happened challenged the pilot about reserving one of the lavatories during the flight:

Was waiting for ten minutes for the one bathroom 30 minutes before landing to change out of [pajamas]. Pilot came back and unlocked the bathroom. Still waiting when he came out.

He locked it again seeing everyone standing there. So I asked innocently….”There’s a problem with this bathroom?”

[Pilot:] “No, this is blocked for pilot rotational duties.”

I replied, “But there is one toilet for business class”.

He said…” There are toilets in economy as well”.

I said, “Yes, that you could use.” He was not happy and walked away.

Since 2020 United Airlines deadheading pilots have gotten priority over passengers for domestic first class upgrades. Now, it seems, they get their own dedicated lavatory if they wish.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. UA has security procedures and they don’t involve permanently blocking a lav for their exclusive use. Anecdotal incidents, regardless of the problem, indicate a failure with individual employees.
    Interesting but not necessarily indicative of much.

  2. I get it. Having a working pilot out of the cockpit for an extended period (while waiting for the lavatory) is not a good thing. The selfish and entitled would never offer “cuts” to working crew- so there is that!

  3. That wasn’t very smart on the part of the passenger. You never question any FA or “servant leader”. They’re lucky security didn’t meet them at the gate. Stare at the floor and answer only with yea or no. Otherwise you may be deemed a threat. Airline staff are constantly talking about bad passenger behavior. A lot of it has to do with the poor service US airlines provide. 5 out of my last 12 fights have been delayed at least 2 hours on the “Premium Airline”. None for weather. There’s been mis-catering, overfuels, missing paperwork and twice our pilot was taken for another flight and we had to wait on one. They roll the delay every 30 minutes so you can’t leave and go to the lounge. I’m starting to realize why passenger incidents are increasing.

  4. Gary

    As usual you are misinterpreting what was said and dramatizing it for clicks, as did the passenger and Tim (not an Expert) Dunn who knows little about augmented flight operations.

    It is simple, often at the end of the flight when the last pilot returns from their FAR required rest break, they will go use the lavatory. When they walk out they lock the lavatory off so that when they go back to the cockpit, one of the two pilots now take their turn to use the restroom, and the exact same process for the third pilot so that all the pilots will use the restroom near the top of descent at destination in a short amount of time.

    If they did not lock off the lavatory as you suggest the second pilot would be waiting say twenty minutes to use the lavatory if there was 10 passengers in the line, same for the next pilot. Most likely they would not be able to use the bathroom and run out of time since you have to be on the flight deck below 18000 feet. The descent is when we get really busy and often you are tired, that is when you need all the pilots up front for the safety of the flight.

    Really wish you “experts” would stay in your lane, you are an absolute expert on FF programs and credit cards but very lacking in other aviation areas.

  5. You’re only finding out about this now?
    UA crews have been doing this for years. Just flew AMS-IAH and the fwd lav was roped off. Only cabin and flight crew used it. The “Occupied” sign was on the entire flight.
    Happens more than you think. (I’ve been a 1K for 25 years.)

  6. I’m curious, @Tim Dunn: You definitively state that “UA has security procedures and they don’t involve permanently blocking a lav for their exclusive use”. Certainly this would not surprise me, although in my case I could only state that as a personal opinion. Are you an employee of United ? Not sure I was aware of that. In any event, it would seem that one possible remedy would be to write this up on Twitter, whom all of the Major Airlines seem to follow closely and encourage follow-ups with flight #’s, dates, etc. United could then issue a communique to their pilots, indicating that this action if repeated would result in disciplinary action being taken.

  7. How about giving business class passengers priority to use the economy class lavatory?

  8. @Mantis
    Slow clap…….
    I recently flew ANA. It was like flying in a different world compared to US airlines. I’m trying to book them or JAL right now. The problem is I’ve got to fly United or American to get to them or split my ticket. If I were in Houston, New York or Los Angeles no US airlines would see a dime from me again for international travel.

  9. thank you, Gary.
    See what I say about them being triggered?

    and the evidence that UA doesn’t require blocking of a lav for the entire flight is because it doesn’t happen on the vast majority of flights.

    It is far more logical and accurate to conclude one pilot or pilot crew is off the rails than the entire bunch.

    on-time has nothing to do with this. It is about lav access. and YOUR personal experience means no more about trends than what happened on a single flight

  10. UA intercontinental is disgusting. UA flight crew attitude: crew first, passenger afterthought. Take NH to Japan, if you can. The Golden Age of Travel flourishes on NH and some other top airlines.

    So a $600k+ compensated pilot at a US-taxpayer-subsidized airline can fashion his own Etihad-The-Apartment from the passenger area?

    I thank this blog for bringing to light some apparently long-standing shady practices by US flight crew.

  11. Gary

    If that is an accurate report, the only good reason would of been if they had a crew member who got ill inflight and you were trying to keep them isolated ( an unlikely event) this is inappropriate if locked the entire flight for just the crew members, I do not allow that on my flight, I understand it would be more convenient but I truly try to give the best service possible on my flights to the customers that have paid for my lifestyle,(home, health, children, cars,etc).

  12. Not sure all international carriers are all that great either. Just got involuntarily downgraded by Air France from CDG to IAD. They did not care that we booked in premium economy for a special anniversary. They insisted they changed equipment. Total lie, and they were mean about it too. I had reviewed the seat map long before the the flight. The only thing they offered us was the price difference. When I complained to Delta, who I purchased the ticket through, they denied me the additional compensation under EU rules, without explanation, even though the flight originated in France.

  13. Wow
    Adults now crying about lavatories and who gets to use them. Is it that important!!!! Or was it because the pilot did not really care about your status.
    Crying about Food ,Drinks, cheap wine, bad champagne, service, flight attendants now lavatories.
    Come on people grow up. The entitlement of some is mind blowing.
    You all should get together buy your own airline and enjoy each other’s company!!!!
    Then you can bitch at each other when things don’t go as smoothly as you wish.
    Then of course that would be ok to do , especially when you are cursing each other out.
    And reminding each other that the customer is always right.
    Have a great flight on losers airlines.
    Just flew on a US carrier from South America.
    Got me from point A to point B.
    Easy , had a bite to eat beforehand bought a bottle of water in the waiting area.
    Got on ,got to my seat relaxed watched a movie. Arrived safely.
    No Drama!!!!

  14. With all the money they are showering on pilots, I think it has reinforced their God complex.

  15. “waaaah! We only had one bathroom and had to wait in line!… Meanwhile, I didn’t have to use the lav, I needed to take my PJs off…”

    And, @derek: how would they give the biz class folks priority to use economy shitters? Kinda hard to squeeze past people who are standing in the aisle… Plus, biz class has what, 34 seats? All the 140 something seats on the back have 4 lavs… That’s like one lav for 33-34 seats.. same ratio.

  16. Just like the UAL pilot that used an ax to supplement a temper tantrum at DEN and the recent DAL pilot who thought he was Captain Quigg…. They are not the norm….but….. our country is slipping due to the whole MAGA crap that infects it……. Narcissism is on the rise and civility is on the decline.

  17. That said, it could have been what 30 west said….not unreasonable to think the poor guy got hit by food poisoning on the layover and realized it after take off……

  18. Bottom line is we are a country of finger pointers that like to jump to conclusions and demonize others…..aka MAGA

  19. @JohnW Do flight attendants block a toilet for a passenger inflicted with food poisoning? Further, there were three pilots. For an 8 hour flight. I am sure if that was the case the “poisoned pilot” would be just fine in their rest seat and waiting like any other sick passenger. Really, put things into perspective. This was clearly just pilots wanting exclusivity to a toilet on a two toilet premium intl J cabin.

    With that, perhaps UA needs to examine the 767-400 as not being exactly the plane to fly to Europe. Seems better fitted for domestic operations, as having two toilets for that J config and then pilots locking one for “rotational duties” a classic set up for a total FAIL.

  20. dreaming up excuses of being sick to justify locking a lav for the entire flight is the height of denial.

    A United pilot and/or crew took matters in their own hands – beyond what UA guidelines require for security.

    There are people in Chicago that know exactly what the government requires and the configuration of UA’s aircraft. They do not deem it necessary to block a lav for the entire flight “for security reasons”

    And I have seen FAs or other pilots block a lav TEMPORARILY during crew change – but they release it within minutes.

    And Delta, the only other significant operator of the 767-400, configured its business class w/ both lavs in the rear of the business class cabin. When they reconfigured the planes, one was put back just outside the cockpit.
    and the DL A330 is still the best plane among US carriers for this pilot crew lav situation with a gate that can be locked when the cockpit door is opened. One lav is inside the gated area and one is outside. Nobody is bothered and the crew does their thing w/ little notice or interruption.

    UA did not configure their 767-400s to provide quick access from the cockpit to the lav but they have procedures to compensate for it. This crew was on a power trip. Plain and simple.

  21. Sick passengers don’t contribute to the safe operation of the flight, all the required crewmembers do…..my point was it’s not clear based on the limited info here, you or I don’t have all the facts…I really don’t know…nor do you. Open minded, pragmatic thinking is another victim of today’s society and accelerated by MAGA

  22. Data point from UA 75/767 pilot –

    “When we do a bathroom break on a 764, the FAs can’t block it with the cart while we’re using it. So before we come out of the cockpit, they lock it so no one goes in while we’re coming out. Then we lock it for the same reason so the next guy can go. The whole ordeal locks the lavatory for maybe 10mins total.

    Only because 764 lav is behind Polaris

    Otherwise they’d set up a bathroom break for you. You’d come out. And some guy is in there going #2 and you have to wait 20 mins to get back to the flight deck.

    Assuming door was *actually* locked for the full flight, that’s definitely not std procedure”

  23. @JohnW: Please submit your hard evidence that somehow MAGA is responsible for all of the crime in the United States. Good luck with this, Pro Tip: That does not exist.

  24. thank you, T7.

    Of course what happened was not standard procedure.

    We could have saved all the genuflection from a few people if they had simply accepted my first post.

    Thank you for doing your job well.

  25. @Texas TJ …how did you interpret I said all the crime in the U.S. is due to MAGA?.. I simply made the made point that narcissism and name calling have risen to new heights since MAGA became a thing and certainly civility has plummeted….especially in politics….Can’t hardly deny the MAGA faction in Congress has made lying and name calling central to their cause. The Republican Party owns the election lie and that is pitiful.
    Funny, you should say crime, in that I blame the far left for their ridiculous defund the police mantra and the resulting increase in many crimes.

  26. @Tim Dunn, I guess you’ve never had food poisoning where you have about 3 mins to get to the bathroom when trouble strikes! I can totally see wanting to have an immediate access to a toilet with a bad case of food poisoning …not saying that’s the case but everything on here is speculation

  27. john
    you have absolutely no evidence that food poisoning was involved.
    You are simply making up BS instead of accepting that this was a pilot didn’t want to make the trek to the back of the cabin and wait for a passenger – or get the FAs off their duff to lock the lav long enough for him to get there.

    You do recall – or did you just ignore – that the pilot said this was about security.
    Who is the runs about security?

    A UA pilot or crew screwed up. One of their own said so.

    You can’t stand to admit it. Nothing new there.

  28. Kluge – you’re an idiot. A service has been paid for. The service is expected.

    Biz class should just p!ss on the cockpit door to make a point.

  29. I just flew Jakarta doha iad with Qatar. During the first segment 8 hr flight and the 2nd segment doh to iad 14 hrs. The crew never locked up the toilet behind the cockpit or said business class pax cud not use this toilet. Only on American carriers does this crap take place. This is why I don’t fly American metal on long flights to asia. Also, the ana, ek, qr, jl flight attendants keep the toilets clean but on united when toilet get too dirty the crew has orders to lock the lav as it us out of order.
    Stay off American carriers and you won’t have this happen. Service also sucks with weather it is UA, Aa or Dl. Same don’t give a crap attitude by these FAs.

  30. We all know how to unlock at air plane door DUH just do it . there are no cameras there and the FA are playing on the cells so they will never know

  31. My guess is this is completely misconstrued. During crew changes it has been common practice to block lavs while the crew change is happening. Many (Most?) aircraft can’t access the cockpit if one or more of the forward lavs are in use by a passenger. Therefore, they are locked off during the crew change, which can take 15-20 minutes or more depending on how extensive the briefing needs to be. The last hour is the worst because passengers are waking up, eating , and the last crew break is ending. If someone goes into a lav for 20 minutes the crew change can’t take place. It becomes a safety issue in that it is getting very busy in the cockpit and everyone is tired at some level.
    To get through the last hour (crew break), it takes a skilled flight attendant, and cooperative passengers and pilots. Nobody wants to prevent anyone from using the lav, but they have to have them clear so they can be used quickly by the pilots, and not occupied during the exchange. There is a lot going on. Some people have suggested getting up earlier. Flight time for this leg is about 8 hours. Pilot breaks would be about 2 hours and 40 minutes each. This includes waiting for the lav if needed, changing, getting to sleep, getting dressed, using the lav, and being able to access the cockpit. Imagine you were assigned sleep tonight from 0400 to 0640 and then needed to be able to handle whatever situation was at hand during the approach and landing. You might try to stay awake tonight and follow those times. See how well you feel and are able to sleep at commanded times. Like 30West and BB said, this is a lot of nothing and has been going on since 9/11/2001.

  32. @30west is correct. Gary is a clickbait artist.

    On a recent AA flight in biz on a 787, the flight attendants said don’t use the lave up front, it’s for crew. I questioned if it’s off limits, they said no, it’s just that the crew (cockpit) will be coming off breaks and will need the area to be sterile. We never do this on the triple, but then again the FAs do all kinds of whacky stuff we don’t know about.

  33. Oh no! I’m on a UA 767-400 to MAD next month! (Not my choice, but it is direct.) Fortunately, I just reviewed the video on how to unlock an airline lav.

  34. So many idiotic comments including bizarre rants about Trump from this John psycho.

    The truth is this incident was not filmed. We are taking the passengers word for it. There are a lot of possibilities.

    One possibility not mentioned is that the bathroom could be MEL’d. There are several lavatory MELs that allow crews to use the bathroom but not the passengers. It is very possible that a pilot might not want to explain the MEL and used security as the reason why lav could not be used.

    Overall I dont think its fair to say for certain what happened.

  35. Can off-duty or commuting pilots use this lav? Or is it only for the rostered operational crew. I checked the FARs and it wasn’t clear on this point.

  36. This story makes me chuckle. I work for a major airline. Yes it can seem like 30 minutes to break the cockpit and do a pilot swap but I assure you its SOP. The switch has to be done a certain way and that is that. So we ask passengers to go to another part of the cabin while this is going on. There are plenty of lavs onboard available. That fact that as a business class passenger you had to use a economy lav is unfortunate. However it is what has to happen to keep the cockpit secure. If this is someones biggest problem in todays world. God Bless!

  37. once again, some people can’t accept that it is NOT UA’s procedure to block a lav for crew use ANYWHERE in the plane for hours at a time.
    Nobody doubts that lavs have to be temporarily blocked for pilot use during crew changes in the cockpit – but Gary and the poster noted that was not at all the case.
    One of UA’s own pilots said what happened is non-standard and the same is true on other US airlines which have different procedures than on foreign airlines.
    Making up “theories” to try to explain what happened is the height of denial that there are rogue crew members and this is a story about one of them… doesn’t make it reflective of UA or security procedures or anything else. It just means there was a rogue crew.

  38. I hate how self important people have become. Amazing that they think they are more important than pilots who not only deadheading, but now ones who are operating the flight? Very entitled result of the me generation.
    So what if your company travel got you status (that you never paid for)? How are you any higher ranking than an airline pilot who also travels for business? They may not even be working for the same company and airlines buy first class tickets on others quite often. They need to be well rested, protected, and have their physiological needs met in order to be safe. Get over yourselves, laptop class.

  39. Ok , clueless ones !!! This so something that is done in between lav breaks as the rotate the pilots out for breaks. they lock it behind them so the next pilot knows it’s still clear for them to go in.

  40. @Tim Dunn and Gary-
    I read this a couple of times and I don’t see where it says anywhere that the lavs were locked the entire flight. If that is the case I would wonder if there was something out of the ordinary happening. As I posted before, locking lavs during crew changes and lav breaks is common practice (and even required depending on the cabin configuration). This sometimes takes longer than desired as pilots can’t always just get up and leave the cockpit without finishing tasks. And sometimes just as they’re getting up to go on break or use the lav, a message or other communication comes up that has to be addressed before they can step out. Amazing to me that people don’t get this. If passengers had to follow the same sleep/lav schedule as crews did, there would be a revolt.

  41. In general, I always fly on United. I fly business class because of a medical condition requiring more than frequent restroom use. I always inform the flight attendants of my health challenges. For international flights, I always ensure that the business class cabin has a minimum of 3 restrooms. On domestic flights, the business class bathroom is occasionally blocked off for the pilots. I have never experienced it being permanently blocked. If I have a problem I use the economy class restroom. To avoid a problem I also try to book a flight on an airplane that has a middle bathroom like the 737 900 or Airbus Neo.

  42. I highly doubt that the flight attendants on this flight would put up with a pilot locking/reserving a lav on the 767-400 for an entire flight. There’s NO way. The lavs on this aircraft type are notoriously difficult to navigate for both pax and crew. We hate it. Having only one lav for Polaris is a literal NIGHTMARE situation. If a pilot reserved a lav, as soon as their switch was over, an FA would go unlock it. Instead of trying to blame people, why can’t anyone seem to hypothesize that they simply forgot to unlock the lav, until it was brought to the attention of an FA? I myself have forgotten to unlock a lav after a pilot switch. I’m human and things happen. Never in my career have I heard of a lav being locked for pilot use only. That’s absurd and the FAs wouldn’t allow it.

  43. Kind of getting over this terrible writing from Gary, what happened to when you actually reported news? Now you’re criticizing pilots for doing something very standard on a 767-400 aircraft and saying they locked toilets for the entire flight when they clearly didn’t? used to like this blog, now it is just embarassing.

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