Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why I Hate Airplane Bathrooms :-)

Frequent those dreaded airplane lavatories will enjoy this witty reflection piece written by Amanda McKinley which I originally ran in March. Inside she gives a play-by-play account of the forces driving her to use those repulsive airplane restrooms in the first place, then humorously describes what it's like "doing time" in those port-a-potties of the sky.

As many of you know, I’m no stranger to the plane. However, despite my affinity for travel and the number of hours I’ve logged standing in security lines, I almost never use the restrooms on planes. Why is this even notable, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

The art of “holding it” is rarely seen as just that—an art—and my husband’s pea-sized bladder and sweet heart can’t stand for me to stave off peeing any longer than necessary. “I know I’ve had a coffee, two waters, and an orange juice—but I think I can make it to Newark! Really!” This was my defense during our last flight. Then, citing my potential, and surely inevitable, kidney problems ruining his trip, I am successfully guilted into shifting my iPod, water bottle, granola bar, and pile-o-travel-junk onto his tray and beginning the walk of shame back to the lavatory.

You know, I’m not jealous of the first class passengers for their headrest T.V.’s or complimentary mimosas, but rather the Private Restroom that’s only a jaunt away from their large, cushy seats. As I step into the aisle, only a few feet away from the mesh curtain separating me from the people who have paid extra to excrete in peace, I am overwhelmed by a sense of self awareness. The aisle on a plane is like a cat-walk lined with groggy children and grumpy old men, whose sole form of entertainment for the next three hours is to watch passengers stammer stupidly down the aisle grabbing at seat backs and trying to keep their rumps out of people’s noses as the drink cart wheels past… I can feel their searing eyes judging me: “Do you think that girl really has to pee, or is she just showing off? Do you think she’s having stomach troubles? What IS she wearing?! I wanted to go to the bathroom next… The nerve of this girl—she probably really doesn’t have to pee anyway!” I can practically hear the annoyed murmurs fill the cabin as I waddle past, shoving my derriere extraordinaire in some kid’s face as he reaches to pick up the game he’s dropped in the aisle.

This is only part of the reason why I allow my bladder to fill to the point of combustion before I give in—the other is the restroom itself. “Restroom” is such an ill-devised term, because as anyone who has ever used the BR on a plane has learned, you will find absolutely no rest here, whatsoever. The small, closet-like space could make even the calmest individual claustrophobic, and sanitation seems to have been sucked out into the pale, chilly atmosphere with the last “whoosh” of the toilet’s blue water.

Inevitably, as it were on this particular trip, I manage to make it to the lavatory door just in time to intermingle with the creme de la creme of my flight’s crop—the individual wearing the theoretical “scarlet badge” of gastrointestinal issues. “Oh my! I guess that coffee really did a number on my tummy!” The white-haired woman airily states as she flips the lock to read “VACANT”. “Oh, yes?” I want to say to her. “Your rancid stench seems to have accompanied you out the door, but since you smiled and said ‘tummy’ it’s perfectly OK!” Instead I return her smile with a nod of faux understanding, lower my head and enter the freshly christened poo-pantry.

Inside it never gets any better! The juicy ghosts of asses past rear their ugly heads from the toilet seat, and my attempt at hovering is nearly thwarted as the plane lurches through what the pilot calls “a little turbulence” and my nose lands squarely on the back of the door. If there was room for me to whip around a vomit, I probably would, but as things stand with my pants around my ankles and my butt in the air, I decide to hold myself together and just go. Honestly, can anyone hold their balance well enough to make it entirely into le toilette? I’m doubting it, but whether or not I dribbled on the floor is completely irrelevant, because the necessity to flush is still looming ahead, and that’s all I can focus on. Oh, Lord, the flushing… the loud rush of my Business being swept into the atmosphere scares me every time! And what is that swift blast of cold air that fills the lavatory mid-flush? Absolutely, heart-stoppingly gross, that’s what it is! So, using the only ballet technique I ever mastered, I delicately tap my perfectly pointed foot onto the Flush button—bracing myself for the blast-o-nasty I’m about to endure. Afterwards, when I feel it’s safe to catch my breath, I try to calm my thumping heart and turn two degrees to the left to wash my hands.

Well, hand-washing is a losing battle, too, and I nearly laugh out loud when I see the sign above the sink that suggests, “you may want to use your towel to dry off the sink after washing.” OR, I may not, as the last train wreck who visited this particular sink had either showered or washed a small, hyper dog—it would take a minimum of 20 hand-washing and counter wiping sessions to clean up the pool of hair and water flooding the basin. In all honesty, washing your hands in an airplane bathroom has to be the most unsanitary oxymoron ever devised in the history of mankind. Paper towels? Out. Mini trash can? Full (and overflowing). Soap dispenser? Covered in slime, which I’m assuming is from the people who can’t get the suds washed off because you have to hold down those stubborn little hot/cold buttons to make any water flow. Sink? So small that if you lather, your hands just rub the sides of the sink and splash around in the water leftover from Grandma Stinky Pants. Then, to finish off the charade, you have to hold down the drain button to send your water whooshing off to the same place as your pee-pee. No one (NO ONE ) ever does that last step, hence the standing water sloshing around the basin. Can I blame them? No, it’s disgusting. And after having to dry off using facial tissues, the thought of spreading the white, leprous flakes caked to your hands all over the fixtures seems less than appealing.

At this point I’m so irked that my brain is barely functioning, so I try to pry open those weird doors and escape… Are you supposed to push? Pull? I always get it wrong and end up shaking and jerking them in a state of panic—I’m certain the commotion has people thinking a giant hamster has crawled out of the loo and is morphing into a people-eating monster of the skies. Alas, it’s just little ol’ me, and I don’t want to eat anyone, I just want out of the airplane bathroom—Forever!

Finally, as I push (or pull?) my way into freedom I see the long line that has accumulated down the aisle. Passengers act perturbed as they make a theatrical production out of letting me pass. They grunt, they squirm, they bend… they give me the same smiles of faux understanding I gave to Grandma Stinky Pants, but this time, I don’t care. I just slide back into my seat, and begin digging fervently for hand sanitizer. I shoot a bitter glance towards the first class curtain that barred me from peeing in peace, and turned to Andy with rage in my eyes as he said, “Now, don’t you feel better?”

Amanda McKinley's Weblog here.