How to Fix a Stinky Airplane Lavatory

The worst airline bathroom experience had to be whatever happened in the lavatory that caused a British Airways flight to Dubai to turn around and go back to Heathrow.

But I had encountered a pretty uncomfortable one yesterday myself, albeit without any diversions.

American Airlines Boeing 787 Lavatory

After meal service I decided I would get up to use the lavatory. There was a line. I was seating in a first class aisle seat, and decided to wait there. Once the line cleared up, I got up — but a passenger from coach darted forward ahead of me.

So I waited. And as I got up to go to the lavatory, another coach passenger darted forward ahead of me.

I decided my strategy had to change. I couldn’t just wait in my seat for the lavatory to open up, I’d have to get up and wait in the galley. So as I got up from my seat, the woman in the window darted out of the seat ahead of me and waited in the galley.

Once she went in, I moved up to galley position. And waited. And waited. It seemed that every single passenger was taking a really long time in the lavatory.

My seat mate came out and I was about to head in, when a flight attendant quickly ran in. Seriously, you’d think I’d never done this before or that it wasn’t really really obvious that I was in the queue. Still, I took it that she Really. Had. To. Go. and I respected that.

And in fact it turns out I really appreciated it because of what she brought in with her: with all of the passengers taking their extra sweet time up there, she brought in a used coffee packet and she left it in there.

Some international carriers have a regimen of regularly cleaning their lavatories during the flight. But for American Airlines I thought this was pretty quick thinking.

A stinky lavatory isn’t pleasant, and I suppose it would have been marginally worse flying American with no lavatory at all. Plus this flight’s pilot’s flirting didn’t take the first class lavatory out of service.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. I saw a coffee filter pack in the lav for the first time last Friday on AA51 from LHR to DFW. clever idea if it works. By the way it is *unused*. This is a great use for the coffee filter packs. Mostly because the coffee they have been using lately on AA is awful…

  2. I had seen several times where the FA places a used coffee pack inside the lavatory. That usually happens when someone throws a dirty diaper inside the trash. Airplane lavatories are the most disgusting place and I avoid them as much as I can.

  3. I’ve seen this done a number of times on both AA and AS. For me, though, all it has done is make the lavatory smell like both solid waste AND coffee. Absolutely did NOT have the intended effect you experienced. I’d like plane manufacturers to include a ventilation fan in lavatories that was part of the externally exhausting ventilation system so bathroom smells were carried *out* of the plane. I’m not an aeronautical engineer, so I’m unsure how hard that would be, but it seems like it should be doable.

    Also, why is the sink so full in that picture? What were you doing in there?

  4. If bad smell is the worst problem you encounter in lavatories you haven’t spent enough time in economy. My strategy is to avoid them as much as possible and using them earlier rather than later in the flight.

    I’ve seen the coffee packs and I’ve also seen FA’s mop the floor by “skating” on feminine supplies. I pity the ground crews whose job it is to clean plane lavatories.

  5. I’ve noticed AS crews hanging wet (or used) orange flavored tazo teabags in the lav lately too. It actually smells quite nice!

  6. Other airlines (e.g. JAL, I believe) actually have air fresheners in their lavs. What a novel idea….One time there was also a handwritten note with an origami bird attached stating “Please everyone keep bathroom neat and tidy”.

  7. I guess I’m ancient because I first saw this on an Eastern flight eons ago. Never forgot the trick & took it upon myself to ask an FA for a coffee pod for the F lav on a UA flight recently. She squinted at me and asked who I used to fly with.

  8. The flight crews with my company use coffee packs to freshen up the lavs, so it is pretty common. I think I was told that it was procedure to use the coffee packs after the 2nd segment an aircraft had flown that day. Some aircraft only receive a “blue water” drain after the last flight of the day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *