United Flight Attendants Union: It’s Unrealistic For Passengers To Expect Clean Lavatories

When you fly an Asian or quality Middle Eastern airline, you expect that lavatories will stay relatively clean throughout the flight. I’ve seen ANA flight attendants cleaning restrooms between passengers, and Emirates has even had staff on its A380s dedicated to this cleaning.

After a long haul flight on a U.S. airline, though, it’s almost de rigueur to expect that by the end of the trip lavatories look like something out of a post-apocalyptic zombie film where we everyone must band together to rebuild humanity out of the ashes.

United Airlines wants to change that. As Mateusz Maszczynski reports that the carrier has a new onboard announcement where flight attendants “ask passengers to provide feedback on the cleanliness of the onboard lavatories.” If passengers notice dirty restrooms, they can tell a flight attendant, who will…

In steps Sara Nelson’s Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) who declares that this new announcement causes “unrealistic passenger expectations” because cleaning dirty lavatories isn’t in the cabin crew contract. What is required is,

  • Wiping splashes of water from the counter
  • Restocking supplies like toilet roll and paper towels
  • Picking up any loose paper towels
  • Ensuring the waste bin is fully closed

While on some United flights taking the action steps that are part of contractual duties might be progress, flight attendants aren’t required to do anything beyond this, such as cleaning floors or high touch surfaces.

And since ‘going above and beyond’ doesn’t benefit a crewmember in a seniority-based system, it’s only the group of flight attendants who take personal pride in the service they offer and passenger experience of their cabin who might go beyond contractual requirements.

I’ve had flight attendants, for instance, bring their own flowers for lavatories like some foreign airlines provide because they think it makes the service nicer. These flowers aren’t reimbursed by the company, and they don’t receive merit pay for delivering a better experience.

United probably isn’t wrong that if flight attendants are announcing passengers should let them know about dirty lavatories, some of those flight attendants might actually do something about it – even if they can’t be disciplined for not doing so. And they also aren’t wrong that if they could clean up areas of poor customer experience, they can clean up on the P&L too.

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. I used to ground handle and RON UA flights. The F/As on the longer segments could do the little they are being asked to do in flight. Shorter segments, probably not. They aren’t equipped for and don’t have the time between flights to do any more than that.
    Let the cabin cleaners handle the rest during turns. People left the lavs in horrendous shape. Pro athletic team charters were beyond description. We used to pick up a couple of 30 gallon bags full of trash from the aisles before we could even start cleaning. And yes, it was every team.

    The regional (the old ZW) I worked for required the F/As to do what UA is asking on every turn AND to help stock the galley.

  2. Not an issue I think much about domestically. I would expect flight attendents to check the restrooms regularly and if something isn’t right. correct it. I just returned from Las Vegas on a non-stop to South Florida and several flight attendents did nothing but talk to each other. Very annoying. Their jobs really aren’t that difficult when travelers cooperated.

  3. Was recently on 2 hour AA flight. First class FA quickly passed out drinks and then hid in the galley the rest of the flight with curtain drawn. Only left briefly twice for 10 second announcements reminding everyone to wear masks–then disappeared again and drew the curtain. Yeah, they’re really overworked.

  4. I go before I leave home and pray for no emegency needs. This is above and beyond what a FA should be expected/required to do (and no, I am not an FA). How much PPE is provided and cleaning supplies in general on board for such a task? In addition, this is the same person you expect to be handling your food/dishes/glasses etc. Too bad we can’t have an on board person who checks after the facilities are used to see who left it trashed and a mess. AND make them come back and clean up after themselves for the next person. It’s just courtesy and consideration. Fine them if they don’t clean up…and refuse to transport teams who leave it a mess and the cabin as well. Maybe if the expectation bar is raised, people will begin to behave better. Animals know to keep their own space cleaner than these types of people who seem to lose brain cells at the higher altitude. It’s just inexcusable.

  5. When seniority is the only thing that matters in regards to promotion / better routes / better pay, then you get mediocrity as the standard level of service. Service level does not matter to get ahead.

  6. Short flights 3 hours or less, it would be unreasonable to ask flight attendants to wipe the toilet seats and floors, but in overseas flights my experience with clean toilet only happened with Asian airlines and Mid-Eastern airlines.
    Just flew on Lufthansa 10-hour flights, they did not keep their toilets cleaned. The flight attendants were in closed curtain back chatting with each other or playing games on their tablets. Besides the two meals, they were nowhere to be seen. Too much like their US counterparts!

  7. Non-union FA: “Welcome aboard”
    Union FA: “Put your mask on, Sit down, we are primarily here for your safety”

  8. I guess what really needs to happen to actually change things is a lawsuit. A passenger gets injured in the bathroom cause it is filthy.
    Who here volunteers?

  9. So they want to get paid, have perks, fly standby with 18 relatives and also drop work clauses one by one?

    Help Nana put her carry on in overhead? No. Insurance liability.
    Bring snacks? Covid.
    Bring booze? Rowdy passengers (ok, that one might be ok)
    Smile? Not in my contract.
    Care about who actually pays for your salary? He’ll no.

    And now this.

    Well done, entitled people.

  10. Exactly what should an FA be expected to do beyond the list of current requirements? Scrubbing the toilet and floor seems a bit much … they could use a ‘sponge on a stick’ I guess, thus creating even more plastic waste.

  11. Yes. The FAs should definitely clean the rest rooms. And then go get your food or beverage and cater to your needs.

  12. That is nonsense worrying about food handling after cleaning a toilet. Never heard of disposable rubber gloves?

  13. Or maybe the people using the restroom could courteously leave it in the condition they found it in. Starting with the first person. It is easier to wipe up your own mess, and leave the lav tidy for the next person. The flight attendants can replenish supplies as needed.

  14. I am always thankful to many flight attendants who take the leadership initiative to restock supplies like lavatory toilet rolls and paper towels for no bonus financial compensation. These flight attendants demonstrate personal enjoyment in their job. Perhaps passengers will bring flowers to spruce up the ambiance of aircraft washrooms on their next domestic flight. Bless you, flight attendants, for thinking safety first and taking pride in cleaning up potentially infectious passenger poop and urine.

  15. I have been on JA and Asiana airlines F and Bus class, FA HIDE behind curtain and played cards . so it happens with everyone’s airline, some may clean others dont

  16. I flew with LATAM non stop fly many hours….. business class…..FA in and out and one restroom not to be use for the passenger…..not very friendly…..if I can recall never offer water….our restroom felty smelly…..a senior citizen no help to put the luggage in the upperhead compartment….FA…..just looking the other way…..I wish those people be more friendly and helpful…..no other airline to South America will go the extra mile……they truly believe it they’re obligations TO DO NOTHING DURING THE FLY

  17. The real question is why Americans can’t clean up after themselves if they must make a mess… or take their mommies on the trip with them.

  18. To Robin Rosner and Leeman, give us a break! The FAs c an use gloves and/or thoroughly wash their hands. We don’t need you making more excuses for their deplorable laziness. UNREAL!

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