>  Aviation   >  The Anatomy of An Airplane Bathroom (And How To Use It)
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It’s a mystery! An enigma! The most confusing contraption the world has ever seen!


It’s the airplane bathroom.

As a flight attendant, sometimes it feels like I spend half my workday explaining to people how to open the lavatory door and the other half flushing the toilet after they’ve left. Y’all stick trash in every crack and crevice you can find, have no idea how to turn the sink on, and don’t even get me started with walking in barefoot.

This madness must end.

Today we’re going to tackle all the intricacies of the airplane lavatory. I’m going over each component, what it looks like, and how it works, so your next trip to the lav can be stress-free (and mess-free!) Plus, I’ll give you some pro tips for a smoother airplane bathroom experience.

Let’s go!

It's time for a lesson. Please take notes.

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I'm here to unravel the mysteries of this enigma.



Before you try to enter the airplane lavatory, ensure it is available for use. There are some simple, though not fail-proof, ways to tell. The first thing is to look for the lit sign indicating whether a lavatory is available or if all are occupied. This will be somewhere around the lavatories, on the wall or the ceiling, high up so that passengers can see it.

Once you approach the door, you’ll be able to tell if it is locked (and occupied) or unlocked (and hopefully vacant.) On American carriers, you’ll be able to tell by looking at the door. Somewhere higher up on the door, by the locking mechanism, there will be a portion in green or red. Green means GO, the lav is vacant. Red means STOP, there is someone in there already. The words “Vacant” or “Occupied” might be there, too, or it might be a picture of a lock, closed or unlocked to indicate the status.

Look for the signs before you start grabbing at the door.

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A sign like this in the cabin means there is an available lavatory!

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This door is unlocked. See the symbol in green?

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Red means STOP. This door is locked.

Getting In


The Door

Perhaps the most confusing part of the airplane bathroom is how to get in it. It makes sense because the doors on different aircraft are all a bit different. Some have doorknobs you turn to open the door, some are accordion style and require pushing the center of the door. Some have a handle and pull out. Some lavatory doors—in the genius that is aviation design—have jumpseats attached to the front of the bathroom door, essentially camouflaging it.  If you don’t know where to look, you might never find it. With so many variations of door style, it is understandable why people have so much trouble with it. But you won’t after today.

I will let you all in on a little secret. Most lavatory doors are labeled—the confusing ones anyway.

By “confusing ones” I mean the doors that don’t have very obvious knobs or handles to turn and enter. Usually, these doorknobs and turn handles are located in the exact same place they would be on, say, the front door to your house, your bedroom door, a hotel door, or virtually any other door you use.

The trickier ones are those that do not look and function exactly like a regular door. They have a handle to pull, require pushing the door, or something different. For all of these doors there will be clear instructions placarded. In the US they will be written in English and Spanish. They’ll say “Push” and “Empuje” underneath. Or they might say “Pull”, “Hale”. It takes an extra second to read something, but it is better than scratching at the door like a stray cat and being stuck outside bathroom.

So, when you approach an airplane lavatory door, there are two steps:

  1. Look for a knob or turn handle

If there is a knob or door handle, it will turn much like a normal doorknob.

  1. Look for placarded instructions on what to do next
  2. Follow those instructions


Asking a flight attendant how to open the door should only be done as a last resort, if you have done steps 1-3 and still can’t figure it out.


The Lock

Once you have made it inside the lavatory, turn and lock the door behind you. This is a critical step that too many people miss, leading to exposure and embarrassment. The lock might look like a knob that turns or a lever that shifts side to side.

This door you push to open.

You pull this door to open it.

This door has a doorknob. To get in, just turn it... like a doorknob.

Make sure you turn around and slide that lock, unless you want unwelcome visitors.

Doing The Business


The Toilet

You all know how to use a toilet (though by the looks of things, some of you might forget when you’re up at 30,000 feet.)

Please consider wiping down the seat after you pee on it. It’s a low bar of courtesy.

Also, check out my post How to Poop on a Plane: A Flight Attendant Shares. You may think you know how, but I can assure you you don’t know the best way.  It’s not the most pleasant thing, I know no one likes to go on a plane. But when you gotta go, you gotta go. Let’s make it as painless (for all of us) as possible.

Lastly, fellas, please lower the seat when you’re finished. Fifty percent of the plane sits to pee and ALL of them sit for a number two. Go ahead and take the fraction of a second to put the seat back down.


The Flush

I am going to say this loudly and clearly for the people in the back.

Any airplane you fly on, any airplane bathroom you use, no matter the size of the plane, no matter the airline you’re flying, no matter the destination, the time of day, or the length of a flight…EVERY SINGLE airplane lavatory you will EVER use has flush capabilities.

If there is a toilet, there is a way to flush it.

The amount of people who do not flush the toilet on an airplane is astounding. Think about it for a second—you’re in here now, but someone was just in here before you. Where did their pee go? It didn’t evaporate! And what would happen if the whole plane full of people—or even half the people—also used this toilet and did not flush? It might overflow, right? Slosh right over the sides and onto the floor and into the aisle, under all your feet? Correct, that’s exactly what would happen.

In fairness to you all, there is variation in how the flusher button looks and where it is located. But I promise you, if you look around for long enough, if you read all the placarded signs, you will find the flush button.

Here are some examples of what an airplane toilet flush button might look like:

I promise there's a button.

Often it is blue.

Just keep looking.

Washing Up


If you considered leaving the bathroom before this part, you should be ashamed of yourself. Even if you don’t normally wash your hands in public restrooms (Ew), having touched anything on the aircraft is so gross that you should reconsider. So here’s what you need to know:


The Sink

The sinks can look different in different airplanes. Some are levers you push down, some are a knob you push down, some are buttons you press, and some even have touchless, motion-sensor sinks. Like most things in the airplane bathroom, there will almost always be placarded directions, instructing you on how to operate the faucet. Look for those first, and if you still can’t figure it out, pop your head out and ask a flight attendant.

If you’re in the bathroom during boarding WHY DIDN’T YOU GO IN THE AIRPORT? Just kidding haha, kind of.

The water on the aircraft won’t start working until the captain has turned the engines on. Bring a hand sanitizer or just wait until you’re up in the air.


The Soap

The soap will be located near the sink. It will be a pump bottle dispenser or a liquid dispenser under the mirror. I advise you use it.


The Paper Towels

Paper towels will be located near the sink. Just look until you find them.


The Trash

I promise you there is one designated place to put trash in the airplane bathroom, and it is not in the toilet, the paper towel dispenser, the sink, or on the floor. Look for a flap that folds in, as all airplane trash bins will be under a self-closing flap. (This flap feature allows the fire extinguisher in the trash can to work in the event of a fire.) The flap might be next to the sink, on the countertop, on the wall, or in the space under the sink. Just look for the tell-tale signs: A picture of a person throwing trash away, or the word “trash” or “basura”.

This fancy sink looks to be touchless.

To use this sink, just push down. (Twist the knob for temperature control.)



NOT Trash.

The Extras

Most airplane lavatories will be equipped with the following extras for your comfort:


Toilet seat covers

These provide a thin layer between your bum and the toilet seat. They’ll be in a dispenser in the wall or behind the toilet, usually. Fun fact, these thin sheets of paper make excellent oil-absorbers, so if you’re looking too shiny, you can use one to blot your face.


Maxi Pads

Most airplane bathrooms have a stash of feminine products somewhere. Unfortunately, due to limited space they aren’t displayed prominently. They might be located around where the tissues are. If you need one, just ask a flight attendant—preferably a female. We will be understanding and help you out!


Facial Tissues

Don’t use scratchy beverage napkins to blow your nose. Airplane lavatories are equipped with facial tissues that are softer. They’ll be located somewhere near the paper towels.


Changing Tables

Diapers should NEVER be changed on tray tables or airplane seats. Please use a changing table in the lavatory. Only some of the airplane lavatories are equipped with infant changing tables. Make sure to look outside the door for the placard indicating a changing table. There will be a handle to release it from the wall, and it will lock into place. If you need help, just ask a flight attendant!


Flight Attendant Call Button

There is a button in each lavatory that will activate a light and a sound in the cabin to alert flight attendants that someone needs help. It is usually located near the sink or paper towels and will have an image of a person (symbolizing your flight attendant). Only press this button if you need help.

From top to bottom: Facial tissues, sliding drawer full of maxi pads, paper towels

The changing table is along the back wall, behind the toilet.

Here's one example of a flight attendant call button in an airplane lavatory.

Pro Tips For The Airplane Lavatory


This concludes the main components of the airplane lavatory. Now here are some quick tips for a more pleasant airplane bathroom experience.


1. NEVER Enter Without Shoes

The liquid on the floor is NOT water. Do not ever enter an airplane lavatory in socks or bare feet. Do not allow your children into the lavatory with bare feet. It is a dirty, dirty place.


2. BYO Spray

Listen, morning flyers, I get it; The coffee hits. If you have to do a number two on the plane, be our guest. But please don’t make it everyone else’s problem. Bring a scented bathroom spray with you. They make them in tiny travel-size portions that fit right in your pocket. Women are better about this than men. So, MEN, I am speaking to you. Prepare for your bowel movements by packing a bathroom spray. They cost under $10, and it’s worth every penny to not have strangers (and flight attendants!) gagging in your wake.


3. The Mile High Club is NOT for Commercial

If you have access to a private jet, by all means f*ck away. If you are flying commercial, don’t even let this notion cross your mind. The airplane bathroom is SO disgusting. Every surface has been defiled—by far worse than the sweaty sexcapades you’re imagining. It is so unsanitary, wet everywhere from water AND pee, and it’s nearly impossible for two people to fit. Just wait until you land, please. The hotel is so much nicer.

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Bath & Body Works Room sprays are by far the best bathroom spray option. Small, cheap, and POWERFUL. Click the pic to browse scents.

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Take pity on your poor flight attendants, sitting directly outside the lavatory.

And that’s all, folks. I hope this post was helpful to those of you who don’t fly often. If you do fly often and are guilty of shoving your trash in the paper towel dispenser, leaving the seat up, or forgetting to flush, try to keep these tips in mind next time you’re up in the air and nature calls.

If you get stuck and can’t find what you’re looking for, you can always ask a flight attendant.


If you want to get more tips from a flight attendant (both snarky and not) then consider checking out some of my other flight attendant content. I’ll link some good starter pieces below. If it’s your first time here, thanks for stopping by, stay a while, make yourself at home!


Please consider subscribing, if you haven’t already, to get the latest travel tips, flight attendant content, and juicy personal stories straight to your inbox. If you like what I’m doing here and want to support it, you can now buy me a coffee at (Being the bathroom director gets tiring, you know!) A gift is never expected and always so appreciated.

Thanks again for stopping by. Here’s wishing you the smoothest sailing, in bathrooms and beyond, in the air and on the ground. <3 plane logo

Hey there,

Thanks for stopping by! I’m Toni, and I run the show at A Wheel in the Sky. Here, we talk all things travel, flight attendant life, and  personal wins (& losses). If it’s your first time here, WELCOME! Please click around and stay a while. I’ve been at this for five years now, so there is a LOT of content. I’ve linked some good started pieces below. If you have any specific questions, please drop a comment below or feel free to DM me on Instagram. Hope to see you again soon!


  • Meag

    February 23, 2024

    praying this one goes viral 😉


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