Me, my bag and the toilet: Why airport bathrooms are gaining attention | Cruising Altitude

As someone who travels solo quite a lot and has a slightly sensitive tummy, I often find myself in airport restrooms with my luggage.

It sometimes requires a level of gymnastic flexibility, which does not come naturally to me, to get all my stuff in the stall and close the door. And I don’t even travel with that much stuff!

The good news is many airports around the country including my home airports, JFK and LGA in New York, are being renovated these days. Some of those projects are funded by a grant program from the federal Department of Transportation, while others, including both projects in New York, are backed by public-private partnerships. Many renovations are funded through other investments or a combination of these options.

Though bathrooms may not be the first thing people think of when it comes to airport modernization, designers on these projects are making a point to not poo-poo the toilet talk.

“A key part of the passenger experience before or after a long flight is having access to restrooms that are attractive, clean, comfortable and spacious,” Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority, which runs the major airports around New York City, told me in a written statement. “To meet those passenger expectations, all of our new terminals are designed with restroom stalls that are significantly larger than the industry standard. Bigger stalls, offset stall doors that enable easier access for roller bags, hands-free fixtures and artwork – even in our restrooms – contribute to the world class passenger experience that has earned our new terminals accolades as best in class.”

Many airport designers are paying more attention to to facilities like restrooms and how they can be built to make travel less stressful.
Many airport designers are paying more attention to to facilities like restrooms and how they can be built to make travel less stressful.

How airport bathrooms are changing

Before the airport renovations started in my neck of the woods in earnest, I’d often wonder why airport operators couldn’t just make the facilities there bigger.

Jamie Haviaris, chief technical officer of LaGuardia Gateway Partners, which oversaw the redevelopment of the airport’s Terminal B and still maintains its operations and maintenance, told me it’s not quite so simple.

“You have to customize the stalls. The stalls are manufactured for commercial office buildings, schools,” he said. “They’re not really designed for somebody bringing in the carry-on.”

Haviaris said LaGuardia Gateway Partners worked closely with the project architects to figure out the best bathroom design, among other elements to make the travel experience easier.

“We wanted to make it hands-free and then we wanted to give the guest the proper space so you could bring your luggage, your coat, your backpack into a stall, you had room to put it all there and you could use the bathroom and close the door,” he said.

It’s not just the stall dimensions that are being updated as airports are redesigned. Here’s what you might see the next time you’re on the road:

  • Large single-stall family bathrooms.

  • Larger baby changing facilities.

  • More prominent pet relief areas.

  • More shelves and other features to help you keep your items off the floor.

“We look at the traveler may be a single dad with two children, a single mom with a couple of children, a pet,” Haviaris said.

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What the changes mean for travelers

For airport designers, the goal is to make the travel experience easier for everyone.

“The focus has really shifted from transactional to, what’s the true guest experience,” Haviaris said. “With the way airlines are charging for things, it changes the dynamics of how you travel.”

He added that more people have carry-on baggage than ever before thanks to ever-increasing fees for checked bags, and people also are spending more time in the airport than they used to.

Designers are working to accommodate these shifts in traveler habits as airports, some with decades-old terminals, are updated.

Haviaris said the philosophy behind most of the changes at LaGuardia Terminal B was to make the airport experience feel as calm and smooth as possible.

“The simple orchids that we put in (the restrooms), or for Christmas, a poinsettia, it’s creating that spa-like environment, that puts the individual at ease,” he said.

I’m not sure I would compare LaGuardia’s new bathrooms to a spa exactly, but they are pretty nice!

Tips for making your airport experience easier

You may not have the advantage of using a newly designed airport terminal next time you travel, but there are still things you can do to make your airport experience feel smoother.

  • Pack light. Probably the best thing is to try to pack as light as possible so you’re not schlepping a million bags through the airport.

  • Don’t leave your stuff alone. Remember, especially if you’re traveling alone, you need to keep all your stuff with you at all times. Unattended bags can be seen as a security risk and may be confiscated while you’re taking care of other business.

  • Give yourself time. Security lines may be long this summer, and you won’t want to be in a rush navigating a potentially unfamiliar airport, especially if you don’t travel often.

  • Be kind. People are often stressed when they’re traveling, but that’s no excuse to lash out.

With that in mind, though, you may see some crazy airport behaviors, even as the spaces themselves are meant to be more tranquil. As much as airports may increasingly be designed to promote a sense of calm, there’s not much the architects can do about the behavior of your fellow travelers.

Zach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Airport bathrooms are getting more user-friendly | Cruising Altitude