In an Age of Shrinking Airplane Bathrooms, Could Urinals be the Next Logical Step?

Feb 17, 2019

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Writing for TPG as a digital nomad, I fly a lot. Along the way, I’ve experienced for myself an unfortunate trend in the airline industry: smaller bathrooms. Meanwhile, passengers are getting bigger.

During the last year, news has focused on the most recent example of on-board bathroom misery: the tiny new 24-inch-wide bathrooms used by American, SouthwestUnited and soon Ryanair on new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. But it’s not just the bathroom size that’s smaller on these aircraft. There’s also the issue of bathroom to passenger ratio.

On American’s 737 MAX, 156 economy passengers share just two bathrooms in the back of the aircraft. On Ryanair’s new Boeing 737 MAX 200 aircraft, there’s just three tiny bathrooms on the aircraft for 197 passengers. Southwest’s all-economy configuration lets all 175 passengers share three bathrooms. United wins the ratio with three economy lavatories for 159 economy passengers on its 737 MAX 9.

It’s not just the 737 MAX where the ratio is getting tighter. No airline that I’m aware of added more lavatories when retrofitting Boeing 777 aircraft with 10 seats across instead of nine-wide seating. That’s an 11% increase in passengers without adding more bathrooms.

Just today as I was standing in line for an airplane bathroom, I remembered a solution that I heard about at the 2018 Aircraft Interiors Expo. It’s not new technology, but seems to be making quite the renaissance: the urinal.

Image courtesy of Zodiac Aerospace.

Airline seat and cabin furnishing conglomerate Zodiac Aerospace entered its idea of the “Durinal” in the 2018 AIX Crystal Cabin Awards. The idea beat out many other entries in the Cabin Systems category to be one of the three finalists, but a movable cabin wall ended up taking the prize.

The Durinal is designed to take up the space of one standard lavatory, but provides two private 30×30″ “cubicles” with little more than a urinal. There’s not even a sink in the Durinal, the designers opting instead for antibacterial wipes rather than a “wet system.”

Image courtesy of Zodiac Aerospace.

By swapping in two lavatories instead of one, the Durinal promises to shorten lines for the bathroom while saving the standard lavatories for when a longer visit is needed.

The Durinal isn’t likely to completely solve the decreasing bathroom ratio on 737 MAX and other narrow-body aircraft however. After all, the glaring issue with the Durinal is that it’s only usable by one sex. Plus, if an aircraft would otherwise have two standard lavatories for both sexes to use, swapping in a Durinal would unfairly tilt the scales toward male passengers.

Instead, the Durinal would be useful in wide-body aircraft. In areas where there would otherwise be three or four standard lavatories, swapping in a Durinal could provide two options for males needing to make a quick-visit while still leaving either two or three standard bathrooms for females and those needing a longer visit. Ideally, that’d shorten the line for everyone.

In the year since the Durinal made a splash at the Crystal Cabin Awards, I haven’t heard a peep about it. No airline has opted to add it yet, and that’s because of perhaps the biggest issue with the product: No matter how practical it may be, it’s unlikely that any airline wants to make headlines for being the first to add urinals to its aircraft.

Sticking with the status quo, airlines may have a lot of passengers frustrated about having to wait in line for the lavatory — but those issues aren’t going to make the press.

So, will we see the introduction of an on-board urinal in the future? While I’m holding my bladder, I’m not holding my breath.

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