Aircraft lavatory

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A business class lavatory with a window, on board an Air Canada Boeing 777-200LR (2011) First class Lavatory with Window.jpg
A business class lavatory with a window, on board an Air Canada Boeing 777-200LR (2011)

An aircraft lavatory or plane toilet is a small room on an aircraft with a toilet and sink. They are commonplace on passenger flights except some short-haul flights. Aircraft toilets were historically chemical toilets, but many now use a vacuum flush system instead.



A crewman on board a World War 2 Royal Air Force Vickers Wellington bomber. The container to the right of him is the aircraft's "Elsan" chemical toilet (1939-1941) Vickers Wellington - Royal Air Force Bomber Command, 1939-1941. CH478.jpg
A crewman on board a World War 2 Royal Air Force Vickers Wellington bomber. The container to the right of him is the aircraft's "Elsan" chemical toilet (1939-1941)

Early aircraft fitted with a toilet include the 1919 Handley Page Type W, the 1921 DH.29 Doncaster and the 1921 Caproni Ca.60. [1] However, the Caproni crashed on its second flight and never saw service. The Handley Page H.P.42 airliner, designed in 1928, was fitted with toilets near the center of the aircraft. [2] The British Supermarine Stranraer flying boat, which first flew in 1934, was fitted with a toilet that was open to the air. When the lid was lifted in flight, airflow produced a whistling noise that led to the aircraft being nicknamed the "Whistling Shithouse". [3] The Short Sunderland flying boat, which saw military service from 1938 to 1967, was comparatively well equipped, carrying a porcelain flush toilet.

During World War II, large bomber aircraft, such as the American Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the British Avro Lancaster, carried chemical toilets (basically a bucket with seat and cover, see bucket toilet); in British use, they were called "Elsans" after the company that manufactured them. These often overflowed and were difficult to use. The intense cold of high altitude required crews to wear many layers of heavy clothing, and the pilot might have to take violent evasive action with little warning. They were unpopular with bomber crews, who would avoid using them if at all possible. [4] Bomber crew members sometimes preferred to urinate into bottles or defecate into cardboard boxes, which were then thrown from the aircraft. [4]

Small aircraft

During World War II, smaller aircraft such as fighters were fitted with devices known as "relief tubes". These consisted of a funnel attached to a hose that led to the outside and which could be used for urination. These devices were awkward to use and could become frozen and blocked in the intense cold of high altitude. [4]

Such devices are still sometimes fitted to modern military aircraft and small, private aircraft although they are difficult for women to use. Male glider pilots undertaking extended soaring flights may wear an external catheter that either drains into a collection bag or is connected to tubing that dumps the urine to the outside. If the latter approach is used, care must be taken when designing the system so that the stream of urine does not make contact with other parts of the aircraft, where it may eventually cause corrosion. [5]

Another solution to urinating on long military patrols, especially in modern naval patrol craft where a pilot is strapped to his seat, is the use of a sponge-containing zipper storage bag, which is disposed at the end of the flight.

Passenger aircraft

A toilet unit for one of the Airbus A320 family of passenger aircraft, prior to installation (2005) Airbus-Bordtoilette.jpg
A toilet unit for one of the Airbus A320 family of passenger aircraft, prior to installation (2005)

Lavatories per passenger provided aboard aircraft vary considerably from airline to airline and aircraft to aircraft. On board North American aircraft, including low-cost, charter, and scheduled service airline carriers, the normally accepted minimum ratio of lavatories to passengers is approximately one lavatory for every 50 passengers. However, in premium cabin and business cabins, passengers may have access to multiple lavatories reserved primarily for their use. These ratios of lavatories to passengers vary considerably, depending upon which airline is being used with some first class passengers having one lavatory for every 12 passengers. Additionally, many of the larger long-haul airlines elect to equip their aircraft with larger lavatories for this particular group of passengers willing to pay higher fares.

Smaller commuter aircraft and regional aircraft designed for short-haul flights may not be equipped with lavatories. Recently, many regional airlines in North America have commenced the trend of eliminating the refilling of hand-washing basin potable water tanks in order to reduce weight, fuel consumption, and service costs.[ citation needed ] To facilitate sanitation, disinfectant hand-wipes are provided.


Lavatories on modern aircraft are very expensive, and include features that have required substantial upfront and long term investments by the world's airlines to design and develop. Airlines and aircraft manufacturers continually research ways to improve lavatory design technology to increase functionality and reduce costs of production, while maintaining adequate levels of safety, hygiene, and comfort.

For this reason, many modern lavatories are now no longer of the "chemical toilet blue water recirculated electric flush" variety. Instead, lavatory manufacturers have progressed to "vacuum flush" technology to eliminate solid and liquid residue from the basin, patented in 1975. [6]

Some of the advantages of vacuum flush technology systems, from aircraft designers' perspective, is the increased safety attributes through less risk of corrosive waste spill over into recesses around the lavatories which can be difficult to protect. Additionally, vacuum flush systems are considered to be less odor-inducing and substantially lighter in weight, saving fuel by reducing the need to carry large reserves of blue recirculating water.


Porcelain lavatory sink in a private jet Gulfstream G650ER, EBACE 2018, Le Grand-Saconnex (BL7C0751).jpg
Porcelain lavatory sink in a private jet

Fitted cabinets may contain additional toilet paper and other toiletries, but they are often locked or have discreet release mechanisms. A common release mechanism is under the mirror/sink area. A little button is presented if, when pressed, will open the mirror up to show products, such as toilet paper, lavatory soap, feminine hygiene products, and more. The toilet and sink are often moulded plastic or a stainless steel sink; the floor is usually a non-slip surface. In newer aircraft, the executive or first class lavatories are roomier and offer more toiletries and other comforts.

The presence of an ashtray is sometimes commented upon, given that smoking has been long banned on flights in many parts of the world. However it is a requirement of the Federal Aviation Administration that ashtrays continue to be fitted to the doors of aircraft toilets, due to the fire risk caused by the possible disposal of illicitly consumed smoking materials in the toilet's wastebin. [8] In 2011, a Jazz flight from Fredericton, Canada, to Toronto was prevented from taking off because an ashtray was missing – the aircraft instead flew to Halifax without passengers to have a new ashtray fitted. [9]

Waste bins are fitted with Halon fire-extinguishing bottles and "oxygen-smothering flapper lids", and the toilets equipped with smoke detectors. Over time these protective devices have been incorporated into aircraft lavatory designs due to fires that have started when the careless smoker of the past or the clandestine smoker of the present has incorrectly disposed of smouldering smoking material. Also, the danger from accidental fires in the toilet is considered to be higher than in other parts of the aircraft cabin as the fire would have more time to develop before being noticed by a passenger or crew-member. Several crashes and/or emergency landings have been linked to fires in or near lavatories, such as Varig Flight 820 and Air Canada Flight 797 in 1973 and 1983, respectively.

If the toilet's fire extinguishing or smoke detection systems are inoperative, the aircraft is still permitted to fly, provided the toilet is barred to passengers and only used by crew members. [10]


The toilets of a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 being serviced Aircraft lavatory service.jpg
The toilets of a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 being serviced

Each aircraft equipped with a bathroom or lavatory needs to discharge its waste somehow. After an inbound aircraft arrives it is the duty of the "lav agent" to flush the lavatory system. In places where fewer or smaller aircraft are being serviced, a "lav cart" (essentially a small lav truck pulled behind a tug) is used to service the lavatories. At airports with higher volumes of passenger traffic, lavatory agents usually use trucks adapted with large tanks on board that do not need to be emptied as often, often colloquially called honey wagons. These trucks are equipped for access to the waste ports of the aircraft, which can be out of reach by other means.

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A flush toilet is a toilet that disposes of human waste by using the force of water to flush it through a drainpipe to another location for treatment, either nearby or at a communal facility, thus maintaining a separation between humans and their waste. Flush toilets can be designed for sitting or squatting, in the case of squat toilets. Most modern sewage treatment systems are also designed to process specially designed toilet paper. The opposite of a flush toilet is a dry toilet, which uses no water for flushing.

A plumbing fixture is an exchangeable device which can be connected to a plumbing system to deliver and drain water.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Urinal</span> Sanitary fixture for urination

A urinal is a sanitary plumbing fixture for urination only. Urinals are often provided in public toilets for male users in Western countries. They are usually used in a standing position. Urinals can be with manual flushing, automatic flushing, or without flushing, as is the case for waterless urinals. They can be arranged as single sanitary fixtures or in a trough design without privacy walls. Urinals designed for females also exist but are rare. It is possible for females to use male urinals with a female urination device.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Air Canada Flight 797</span> 1983 in-flight fire on a DC-9

Air Canada Flight 797 was an international passenger flight operating from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Montréal–Dorval International Airport, with an intermediate stop at Toronto Pearson International Airport. On 2 June 1983, the McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 operating the service developed an in-flight fire in air around the rear lavatory that spread between the outer skin and the inner decor panels, filling the plane with toxic smoke. The spreading fire also burned through crucial electrical cables that disabled most of the instrumentation in the cockpit, forcing the plane to divert to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Ninety seconds after the plane landed and the doors were opened, the heat of the fire and fresh oxygen from the open exit doors created flashover conditions, and the plane's interior immediately became engulfed in flames, killing 23 passengers who were unable to evacuate the aircraft.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Toilets in Japan</span> Description of toilets in Japan

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Passenger train toilet</span> Types of toilets in passenger trains

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baggage handler</span>

In the airline industry, a baggage handler is a person who loads and unloads baggage, and other cargo for transport via aircraft. With most airlines, the formal job title is "fleet service agent/clerk", though the position is commonly known amongst airline employees as a "ramp agent", due to the job's location on the airport ramp (tarmac).

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There have been many toilet-related injuries and deaths throughout history and in urban legends.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pre-flight safety demonstration</span> Demonstration required by law informing aircraft passengers of emergency procedures and regulations

A pre-flight safety briefing is a detailed explanation given before take-off to airline passengers about the safety features of the aircraft they are aboard.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">In-flight entertainment</span> Entertainment available to aircraft passengers during a flight

In-flight entertainment (IFE) refers to the entertainment available to aircraft passengers during a flight. In 1936, the airship Hindenburg offered passengers a piano, lounge, dining room, smoking room, and bar during the 2+12-day flight between Europe and America. After World War II, IFE was delivered in the form of food and drink services, along with an occasional projector movie during lengthy flights. In 1985 the first personal audio player was offered to passengers, along with noise cancelling headphones in 1989. During the 1990s, the demand for better IFE was a major factor in the design of aircraft cabins. Before then, the most a passenger could expect was a movie projected on a screen at the front of a cabin, which could be heard via a headphone socket at their seat. Now, in most aircraft, private IFE TV screens are offered.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Varig Flight 820</span> 1973 plane crash in France

Varig Flight 820 was a flight of the Brazilian airline Varig that departed from Galeão International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 11, 1973, for Orly Airport, in Paris, France. The plane, a Boeing 707, registration PP-VJZ, made an emergency landing on onion fields about four kilometers from Orly Airport, due to smoke in the cabin from a fire in a lavatory. The fire caused 123 deaths; there were only 11 survivors.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ground support equipment</span> Equipment for servicing aircraft between flights

Ground support equipment (GSE) is the support equipment found at an airport, usually on the apron, the servicing area by the terminal. This equipment is used to service the aircraft between flights. As the name suggests, ground support equipment is there to support the operations of aircraft whilst on the ground. The role of this equipment generally involves ground power operations, aircraft mobility, and cargo/passenger loading operations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Airline seat</span> Seat of an airliner for passengers

An airline seat is a seat on an airliner in which passengers are accommodated for the duration of the journey. Such seats are usually arranged in rows running across the airplane's fuselage. A diagram of such seats in an aircraft is called an aircraft seat map.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">On-board toilet</span>

On-board toilets are enclosures equipped with a toilet for the use of human excretion, typically mounted within a vehicle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Honeywagon (vehicle)</span> Vehicle carrying human excreta

A honeywagon is the slang term for a "vacuum truck" for collecting and carrying human excreta. These vehicles may be used to empty the sewage tanks of buildings, aircraft lavatories, passenger train toilets and at campgrounds and marinas as well as portable toilets. The folk etymology behind the name 'honeywagon' is thought to relate to the honey-colored liquid that comes out of it when emptying the holding tanks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Toilet</span> Piece of hardware for the collection or disposal of human excreta

A toilet is a piece of sanitary hardware that collects human urine and feces, and sometimes toilet paper, usually for disposal. Flush toilets use water, while dry or non-flush toilets do not. They can be designed for a sitting position popular in Europe and North America with a toilet seat, with additional considerations for those with disabilities, or for a squatting posture more popular in Asia. In urban areas, flush toilets are usually connected to a sewer system; in isolated areas, to a septic tank. The waste is known as blackwater and the combined effluent, including other sources, is sewage. Dry toilets are connected to a pit, removable container, composting chamber, or other storage and treatment device, including urine diversion with a urine-diverting toilet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dual flush toilet</span> Flush toilet that uses two buttons to flush different amounts of water

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Inflight smoking</span> Smoking tobacco on an aircraft

Inflight smoking refers to smoking tobacco on an aircraft while in flight. While once prevalent, it is now prohibited by almost all airlines and by many governments around the world. The bans on inflight smoking have been imposed in a piecemeal manner around the world beginning in the 1980s. The use of electronic cigarettes is also prohibited on many flights.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Toilet (room)</span> Room for privately accessing a toilet, and often handwashing basin

A toilet is a small room used for privately accessing the sanitation fixture (toilet) for urination and defecation. Toilet rooms often include a sink (basin) with soap/handwash for handwashing, as this is important for personal hygiene. These rooms are typically referred to as "half-bathrooms" in a private residence.


  1. Gianni Caproni (1937). Gli Aeroplani Caproni – Studi, progetti, realizzazioni dal 1908 al 1935 (in Italian). Milano: Museo Caproni. p. 144.
  2. Robert Bluffield (19 November 2014). Over Empires and Oceans: Pioneers, Aviators and Adventurers - Forging the International Air Routes 1918-1939. Tattered Flag. pp. 142–. ISBN   978-0-9543115-6-8.
  3. "Supermarine Stranraer". Military Aircraft. Archived from the original on 26 November 2010. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  4. 1 2 3 Ken Wright (2010). "And When Nature Calls". Bomber Command Museum of Canada. Archived from the original on 26 February 2019. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  5. De Rosa, John. "Glider Pilot Relief ("Pee") System". Soaring (October 2010): 22–23.
  6. US 3922730,Kemper; James M.,"Recirculating toilet system for use in aircraft or the like",issued 1975-12-02
  7. Hincks, Joseph. "The Real Reason Airplanes Still Have Ashtrays". Time. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  8. Gary E. Davis (20 January 2010). "MMEL Policy Letter 85, Revision 2 – Lavatory Door Ashtray Policy". Federal Aviation Administration. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  9. Alberstat, Joann (March 4, 2011). "Missing ashtray grounds Jazz Air flight". The Chronicle Herald . The Halifax Herald Limited. Archived from the original on March 7, 2011. Retrieved May 27, 2015.
  10. John Duncan (2 November 2009). "MMEL Policy Letter 24, Revision 4 – Lavatory Fire Protection". Federal Aviation Administration. Retrieved 7 July 2012.