We'll put up with a lot to get quickly from one city to the next. Airlines haven't yet found the thing to turn us off flying completely, although with checked baggage fees, unauthorized therapy animals, security theater, and government deregulation, they seem well on their way. The latest front in the battle for travel dignity is a private one, but all the more important for it: Airplane lavatories are shrinking to incomprehensible sizes.
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The Washington Post has just published an interactive feature on a new round of sky-high bathrooms. American Airlines, Delta, and United have all recently introduced redesigned airplanes which can fit as many as six extra passengers onboard. This translates to an added $400,000 in revenue for each added seat — but also the coach toilets are squashed into a space that's just 24 inches wide.
The problems this presents for most passengers can't be overstated. If you're tall, or disabled, or overweight, or taking care of a child, or any combination of those, using the lavatory becomes a task on a spectrum from awkward to impossible. Airlines insist that they've heard no complaints, and that the redesigned interiors benefit flyers in big ways, such as increased overhead bin space. "The idea that airlines would intentionally downgrade the flying experience or undermine safety is a flawed premise," one industry representative told the Washington Post.
Consumer groups are pushing back, at least, both on bathrooms and on issues like minimum seat size. It's worth speaking up about if you feel strongly about these experiences. Until then, just don't be surprised the next time you open the lavatory door.