Monday, November 10, 2008

Fresh Restroom Design Solutions For Airports

The first words that come to mind when you hear “airport restroom” are unsanitary and crowded. After stepping off a long flight, the first place I generally want to go to is the restroom. I expect to see impeccable attention to cleanliness and be provided with high-tech amenities. According to USAToday, Atlanta Airport’s restrooms are cleaned every 15 minutes from 7am – 11pm daily. Fort Lauderdale Airport’s restrooms are cleaned every 15 minutes from 6am – 11pm. Chicago O’Hare has attendants in 17 restrooms maintaining them from 6 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Restroom cleanliness especially in international airports where there is a high amount of traffic affects customer satisfaction largely. However, not only is the cleanliness of the restrooms important, there is a greater need to give consideration to the design of them. People land from long flights desperately desiring to brush their teeth, relieve their motion sickness, and even wash immediate parts of their body. No matter how immaculate these restrooms are, cleanliness can only satisfy so much when many of these airports lack services that accommodate other, more practical needs.

A prevailing complaint of airport restrooms is that the stalls are not spacious enough for a traveler to hold all their luggage while they use the restroom. Alice Wing, a writer for USAToday, states, “Not only is the size and configuration of the average restroom stall uncomfortable, but it is also a security risk because people often leave their luggage outside of the stall…Have you ever tried to enter a stall with a backpack and a roller-board bag, trying not to touch the toilet as the door swings inward and clears the toilet by only inches?” Oakland International Airport in California conducted a customer feedback survey that showed “Travelers want restroom facilities that offer: 1) More stalls; 2) Larger stalls roomy enough for a traveler and his/her carry-on luggage or a young child; 3) Ergonomic layout for improved circulation; and 4) Hands-free fixtures and entrances/exits for increased hygiene.” With the increasing amount of families traveling, it can be hassle when a parent and child both have to squeeze themselves into one tiny, narrow stall, let alone with their luggage. This issue also addresses the lack of family restrooms and children’s amenities that exists in airports.

Some solutions to these issues have been proposed and also have been implemented into many airports. Airport restrooms should include stalls that contain more space, multiple coat hangers, and possibly a small shelf that can hold smaller items. Dallas Forth Worth International Airport’s airport has published their design manual on the web. The design manual dedicates four pages to design guidelines for public restrooms in its terminal buildings. Page two includes a feasible solution that other airports could adopt: “Guideline Provide hooks adjacent to lavatory for hanging bags, purses, and briefcases. Provide a 12” deep purse shelf at back of counter and/or on sidewalls” and “Guideline Provide a 12” deep baggage wall shelf behind toilets and urinal bank.”

Another security risk issue of airport restrooms is when parents or guardians leaving young children unattended, even for short amounts of time. A good example of an airport implementing these design solutions is the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. According the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, it’s the ninth busiest airport in the US,. The airport accommodates families by having “20 ‘Family’ restrooms available in the terminals at DTW” based on its official website. This helps to prevent children from getting lost. According to an article by Levi Fishman, family restrooms at “Chicago O’Hare airport have only one toilet, but they have a seat attached to the wall for a parent or a caretaker to sit down.” Now that more young families travel, airports are satisfying their specific needs.

A proposal that was designed with children in mind is the Step N’ Wash. On, travel writer Harriet Baskas discusses a new “gadget called the Step N’ Wash. It’s a retracting step-stool that pops up from under the sink to allow kids to wash their hands in airport bathrooms without having to get an adult to pick them up…” Atlanta Airport, the number one busiest airport in the nation wants to “provide the highest level of customer service. Installing Step N’ Wash in the restrooms to assist those traveling with children is a great example of how we meet the needs of the traveling public.” The Step N’ Wash is a great amenity that can lighten the mood and also diminish stress on both parents and children.

Today, restrooms in airports are usually designed similarly to public restrooms anywhere else. However, because airport restrooms call for heavy use, waiting in line for an open sink can be increasingly inconvenient when people decide to wash their hair or brush their teeth in them. My personal experience with washing my hair in Korea’s Incheon International Airport after a long and arduous 16-hour flight led me to realize how bad of an idea it was. After I rushed into the restroom, in desperation to wash my hair, I realized I had taken up one of the only three sinks that were available in that restroom, which I’m sure annoyed everyone else. It took about 10 minutes to wash up, but there was no real open area to dry my hair with my towel. I was in the way and obstructing people’s paths as I attempted to dry it. I realize how exasperating it can be when people are trying to get in an out as quickly as possible.

To solve the problem of people lingering at sinks for too long, proposing separate stations in the restroom for different purposes can possibly alleviate this congestion. Ft. Smith Regional Airport in Arkansas was acclaimed as America’s Best Restroom in 2005. It contains two rows of sinks that face each other, all on one granite top island. Since mirrors are off on the other side of restroom, this forces the traveler from taking too much time in front of what is normally both the sink and mirror. With the mirrors away from the sink, this allows a better flow of traffic in the restroom. Again, DFW is one step ahead with the simplest solutions. In Guideline “ Provide a full-height dressing mirror out of the main circulation path.” In addition, creating separate stations for brushing teeth, and even shower rooms would relieve even more blockage. To prevent lines forming in front of the showers, a fee would be paid as compensation. An example of this occurs at London Heathrow Airport. Not only are there restrooms at each terminal, there is a shower room at Terminal One with a cost of £15 (about $20). Although many large airports, such as the New York JFK airport include shower facilities, they are only for those flying business or first class.

The American Restroom Association discusses some prominent public restroom design issues including waiting in long lines for an open stall. Their philosophy is: “no matter what their configuration, public restrooms portals should be designed with sufficient width to accommodate peak times when users may be waiting in line. People exiting the restroom should not have to jockey their way through or collide with people waiting to enter the restroom.” The American Restroom Association suggests that a labyrinth style entrance and exit into a restroom solves the formation of long lines and more. The labyrinth design reduces the risk of hitting someone with a swinging door, prevents criminal activity since there really is no “doorway”, and allows people to wrap around it when lines form. DFW’s useful manual mentions a similar alternative: “Guideline Entries to the men’s and women’s rooms should not have doors, but switch-back or ‘T’ access halls, that are wide enough for two people to pass. The ‘T’ access is preferred for rooms with larger number of fixtures due to the improved circulation.”

On top of all this, some airports are taking the initiative to implement cutting edge designs in their restrooms. Take for instance the Chicago O’Hare International Airport, the second busiest airport in the nation, holds one of the more popular restroom facilities. Baskas states, “Nine years ago, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport installed intriguing self-changing Sani-Seats in most restrooms. The entertaining amenity is extremely popular with female travelers and there are even a few YouTube videos marveling about it. A similar product now on the market, the Hygolet Sanitary Toilet Seat, has now been installed at Iowa’s Des Moines International Airport, Alabama’s Montgomery Regional Airport and a few others.” Not only does the Hygolet Sanitary Toilet Seat automatically flush, it also has automatic revolving plastic seat coverings. This satisfies the cleanliness factor and is entertaining to experience. Already, other airports are adopting this widely popular method.

Another great example of innovative restroom designs is at the Stockholm-Arlanda Airport. It employs an entertaining, yet functional restroom environment. Judith Davidsen, a writer for, speaks of some of the designs in Arlanda Airport’s restrooms: “Urinals in the gents' are backed by a meadow of wildflowers photographed in southern Sweden. On the inner wall, the yellow blossoms reach practically to the ceiling. On the outer wall, the meadow rises just 4 1/2 feet—somewhere between chest and chin, depending on the height of the gentleman in attendance. Above that, there's a window…” The design has “significant pluses. Seamless glass goes a long way toward eliminating the odors that accumulate in grout between tiles around the typical urinal.” Cleaning glass takes only slightly more effort than cleaning mirrors. Another plus is “the gray ceramic floor tiles at the airport are joined by a special grout that's used in hospitals and nursing homes to resist the absorption of urine.”

To create a lighter and more engaging environment, designers should attempt to stay away from the cold, sterile feeling that some restrooms communicate. In an article called “Restroom Design Challenges”, by Abigail Kelly, some tips include having “high ceilings that create a sense of spaciousness; softer lighting schemes or, occasionally, day lighting; and design schemes that carry architectural and aesthetic elements used elsewhere in the facility into the restrooms.” However, the designer must be careful to not let form dominate function, a critical mistake that can easily be overlooked by designers.

Although airport restrooms are cleaned routinely, airports have a substantial need for innovative design that accommodates all types of travelers. Airports are highly sensitive to efficient design because they have to meet the needs of the high traffic of travelers. Whether it’s the Step N’ Wash or revolving toilet seats, airports are expected to be the first with technologically advanced facilities.

Works Cited
Baskas, Harriet.  "Fresh Amenities for Pooped Out Travelers".  2 Oct 2008.
Davidsen, Judith. "A Loo with a View". Interior Design 1 Oct 2006.
Fishman, Levi. "Family Restrooms Overcome Stalls". 11 Dec 2007.

"Public Restroom Design Issues". American Restroom Association. 30 Oct 2008.

"OAK Responds to Customer Feedback with Restrooms Renovations for Terminal 1". Oakland International. 1 Nov 2008.

"December 2007 Airline Traffic Data: U.S. Airlines Carry Record 769 Million Passengers in 2007". Bureau of Transportation
Services. 1 Nov 2008. .

"Airport restrooms: When and how often they're cleaned". USAToday. 30 Oct 2008.

DFW Design Criteria Manual: <>.


1 comment:

SVA33 said...

Thanks for the great article. As a mom I always dread a trip to any public restroom, especially airport restrooms. They are always so crowded and its such a challenge to get my 3 young ones in and out. We just returned from our trip to Disney World and while on our way home at Orlando aiport I was in the restroom and my daughter Lilly said "hey mom look at me" and when I turned she was standing on a step washing her own hands. I was so excited! When she got down I wrote down the name of the product...Step 'n Wash...and did a Google search this morning and found your blog. Kudos to the Orlando airport for adding these step stools to their restrooms. It's about time someone finally addressed this problem.