Stealthy Airplane Bathroom Tips That Are Total Game-Changers

Airline travelers are subjected to a host of miseries, from battling it out with armrest hogs to finding out the hard way what they can't bring through a TSA checkpoint. Few air travel-related torments are more distressing than those that revolve around the airplane lavatory. After a strong cup of coffee and a stressful check-in, it's easy to realize you need to go mid-take-off when it's not an option — just when everyone else has the same thought.

The only thing worse than standing in the loo queue is the relative lack of privacy afforded by an airport bathroom. If you're the one either encountering or leaving behind an unpleasant aroma, the whole experience can leave folks working overtime to avoid making eye contact with anyone else around. For passengers who have to go frequently, it can feel like everyone on board is silently judging you and your bladder.

Thankfully, the internet is full of clever solutions for going mid-air without drawing too much attention to oneself. We've put together some of the stealthiest airplane bathroom solutions to help make your next visit a total relief.

Window seat folks can try to go when there's an opening

Sitting in the window seat is all fun and games until that Venti Frappucino hits your bladder. Unfortunately, there's no way to get to the bathroom without asking the person or persons next to you to move, which can be a huge hassle once lap trays are down and everyone is settled into their mid-flight activities. To avoid disrupting your neighbor's audiobook, some folks recommend going when they go.

In a thread dedicated to bathroom etiquette, one Reddit user wrote, "If either the middle or aisle seat gets up to use the restroom and you can/need go to the bathroom, I'd suggest going just bc it's easier for everyone in the row." Wait a few seconds and then hop up to take advantage of the interaction-free exit opportunity.

If your body won't align with their schedule, don't feel bad about asking your neighbors to move for you. "As a frequent aisle seat person, I have absolutely no problem when someone asks me to get up," the same user wrote, adding, "I know what I'm getting into when choosing the aisle." While you might feel awkward asking someone to move moments after they've just sat back down themselves, most people are pretty understanding.

Aisle seat folks should consider their neighbors

Just as window seat passengers are better off waiting until their neighbors get up for their bathroom breaks, folks sitting in the aisle seat can do their part to improve everyone's bathroom experience. If you're amenable to it, take a moment when the plane is boarding to let your neighbors know they shouldn't hesitate to nudge you if they need to get up for any reason. This can go a long way in helping everyone involved feel less conspicuous when it's time for a bathroom break.

"I like the aisle and sometimes I actually tell the middle and window people not to worry about asking me to get up," wrote another user in the Reddit thread, adding, "because I've been stuck in the window before and that gives me anxiety lol." With an already-established rapport, your neighbors won't have to feel so awkward when they need to get up. And they might even be more considerate of your needs, which can be a lifesaver when the sun from their window is shining directly onto your seat.

Go while people are still awake

If you're flying overnight or on an especially long flight, non-aisle sitters can make everyone's life easier by trying to use the restroom before everyone passes out for the flight. Once your neighbors have drifted off to dreamland, discreet trips to the loo become considerably more difficult.

Watch for tell-tale signs of a pre-sleep countdown. When someone in your aisle pulls out a neck pillow or sleep mask, tell them you want to take a quick break before they get too cozy. Most folks will recognize that you're doing them a favor by going now instead of pulling them out of a seriously good in-flight nap.

But once again, don't suffer in silence just for politeness' sake. If you do have to wake someone up, the key is to be considerate. One Redditor, whose extensive travel resume includes millions of redeye miles, has developed a whole system for navigating this delicate social interaction. According to the seasoned traveler, passengers should first try waking them verbally by saying, "Excuse me," although they noted it "almost never works." Next, try gently touching their arm to wake them. And if all else fails, don't be afraid to enlist the aid of a flight attendant.

Never climb over other passengers

If the thought of physically climbing over a sleeping passenger seems nothing short of abhorrent to you, you might be surprised to learn just how frequently people think this is a completely reasonable course of action, only to learn the hard way just what a terrible idea it is. And fortunately for those of us who can't resist a good train wreck, they're happy to share these wild tales on Reddit.

Sometimes, this risky move works out. Another commenter in the Reddit thread mentioned earlier recalled watching a passenger climb over a sleeping neighbor, both coming and going with their climber none the wiser, calling it "a regular Spider-Man move." But this risky gambit can go south fast. Another user told of losing their balance mid-climb, writing that they "ended up straddling a sleeping lady" who gratefully did not wake up.

Not everyone is so lucky. Writing on r/Delta, a traveler lamented the time a guy woke him up mid-seat climb. While sleeping in an aisle seat, the passenger awoke to his neighbor parkouring the armrests. "I wake up abruptly with his junk just inches from my face," the Redditor lamented. "Don't be like this guy."

Wait until the flight attendants pick up trash

Remember how, back in school, your classroom would always feel more energetic just after lunchtime? Some frequent fliers say the same is true for airline passengers, who tend to liven up a bit just after they've eaten before eventually settling down and getting sleepy once more. This seems like it would make for the best time for a bathroom break, but there are a couple of reasons why it isn't. First, many other passengers will get up around this time, which means you might get stuck in a line at the lavatory.

It's also better to wait until the flight attendants have picked up everyone's mealtime trash and tray tables have been restored to the upright position so you don't put other folks out trying to exit the aisle. A traveler in the Reddit thread expressed frustration with one such encounter, complaining, "I had this happen to me recently (literally as soon as we got our drinks and I had to juggle a bunch of open cups) and did not appreciate it." The experienced red-eye traveler concurred, adding, "Not only is it a pain for people to move all that stuff, but the odds are there's a cart in the aisle between you and the bathroom too."

Be efficient with your bathroom time

One way to make things easier on your fellow passengers and minimize the attention you're drawing to yourself is to streamline any trips out of your seat. One Reddit user advised, "My rule is that all my chores should be done in one go. So for example, if I wish to go to the bathroom I will only go if necessary but at the same time attend to my overhead locker needs." Take the opportunity to stretch your legs and check on your buddies from a few aisles back while you're up.

This should go without saying, but once you're in the lavatory, don't lollygag. Put your phone away — your goal is to get in, do your business, and get out. An etiquette aficionado in the thread suggested, "When using the bathroom, try to be efficient and avoid taking too much time, especially if there is a line of other passengers waiting to use the restroom." While it's understandable that you might want to freshen up a bit — especially on a redeye — be mindful of the other folks waiting to do the same. And if you run into a buddy outside the W.C., remember that hanging around blocking the aisle to the loo is one of the worst things you can do on an airplane. 

Don't overdo it on liquids

For many travelers, trying to stave off boredom on a long flight is one of travel's biggest challenges. With little else to do, it's easy to overdo it on liquids, often mindlessly gulping down coffee, soda, or alcoholic beverages without even realizing it. But all those drinks have to go somewhere, meaning more trips down the aisle. A Reddit user advised anyone wanting an adult drink to stick to less watery booze choices like wine or liquor. "Don't crush a bunch of beers or you'll have to get up every 30 minutes and that might get annoying," they wrote.

Since cabin air is drier than what we are used to on the ground, it's a good idea to drink less when flying. Throwing back too many alcohol-infused beverages or even a lot of caffeine on a flight can leave you feeling pretty rough, anyway. Instead, it's better to stay focused on healthy water consumption without overdoing it.

Let your neighbors know if you're air sick

For unfortunate folks who suffer from air sickness, having allies on board can transform the ultimate social nightmare into a story of human kindness. That begins by reaching out to those around you before trouble sets in. To minimize the bathroom-dash drama, a Reddit user advised, "Every time you find yourself in the window seat simply inform the others in your row that you get air sick so you may need to go anytime that way they won't be surprised."

Every precious second counts when you're attempting to hit the lavatory before your lunch resurfaces. Recounting one such experience on a Reddit thread dedicated to air travel horror stories, someone recalled a truly cursed Southwest flight he spent seated in front of a seriously ill passenger, writing, "I felt terrible for the guy but the entire flight the aroma and sound of vomiting filled the plane."

Flight crews are well-versed in air sickness care, and may be willing to help you find a seat near the loo. Sharing their experience getting hit with food poisoning on a flight from Barcelona to Moscow, a traveler on the horror story thread recalled, "I don't think they really believed me too much but they let me sit on a fold out chair across from the bathroom."

Check the occupied sign before yanking on the door

Few things are less stealthy than yanking on the airplane lavatory door handle without checking the "Occupied" sign. If someone is inside, you're likely to make them feel at least momentarily uncomfortable. As one Redditor wrote in a r/Rant post, "I hate being in the middle of my peaceful use of the bathroom, to then jump because someone decided to jiggle the door handle and then try to put their whole body weight into the door."

Make a habit of stopping to check the door sign first. A Redditor in the toilet etiquette urged, "Way too many people charge up the aisle and try to yank the door open and the toilet occupied sign is on. Seems a lot of people don't realize that they can see the toilet occupied sign from their seat."

Then there's the worst-case scenario: You open the door only to realize they've forgotten to engage the lock, ultimately leaving all parties involved feeling awkward, if not downright embarrassed. Even when the bathroom doesn't seem to be occupied, it's a good idea to knock first and open the door slowly since people can make mistakes. Nobody wants to be trapped in a flying tube with a stranger who walked in on them with their pants down.

Sit down to urinate

Folks who typically stand when they relieve themselves are doing everyone else a service when they choose to take a seat while they're flying. That's because standing requires a certain amount of aim, and airplanes can get pretty shaky even when there's not much turbulence around. A Brigham Young University study reported on by Stuff found that even men who think they're good aimers tend to have more splashback than they realize. Factor in things like booze, age, and prostate enlargement, and it's even worse.

Taking the time to sit isn't just more considerate for other passengers — it is also a healthier option that helps folks get in and out of the bathroom more quickly and keeps them from having to go back so soon. One Leiden University Medical Center-sponsored study found that not only was voiding time decreased among male sitters, but participants were also able to empty their bladders more completely. And if you're worried about being perceived as less manly, remember that standing to pee is generally only the norm in Western countries. Besides, we won't tell if you won't.

Know the best times to go, according to flight attendants

Few people have a better understanding of prime bathroom potty time than professional flight crew members. Speaking to Mel Magazine, former flight attendant Erika Roth suggested that there isn't exactly a good time to go number two, but it's best to go immediately after the seat belt sign is off but before drink service has started. It makes sense since even if that's when everyone else is going, this guarantees you won't find yourself dancing around the drink cart. And if you hurry, you can score a spot at the front of the line.

And those aren't the only reasons to take an early potty break, although another former flight attendant named Susan Fogwell suggested going before the plane even takes off. That's because every airplane gets refreshed between flights, making this the cleanest time to go, as Fogwell noted to Reader's Digest. It's also a good idea because you never know how long the seat belt sign will stay on once you've taken off. Fogwell concluded that "it behooves passengers to take care of business on the ground for two reasons: cleanliness and safety."

Ask the attendant for coffee grounds

Few things in life are more uncomfortable than knowing there's a long line behind you when you simply can't avoid leaving a cloud of unpleasant aromatics. And if it would be bad on land, it's even worse in the sky. As Erika Roth told Mel Magazine, "Close quarters, poor ventilation and a lack of efficient plumbing — to be blunt, the stench can fill a cabin quickly." Yikes.

But don't despair — the seasoned Roth has a tried-and-true hack for these situations. "Ask an attendant for packets of coffee grounds," she advised. Grab them before you visit the loo and either hang them or leave them on the counter. "The grounds will soak up the odor," Roth noted.

Writing for View From the Wing, Gary Leff recalled waiting in a long line for the bathroom only to have a flight attendant suddenly jump in front of him. Once he finally stepped into the loo, he noticed she'd deposited a used coffee packet on the counter. According to Leff, the clever flight attendant had realized everyone was spending a long time in the bathroom, which meant it was probably getting pretty rank in there. The coffee grounds did the trick, with the author noting, "I really appreciated it."

Use your old COVID-19 mask

If you're like most people, the relief of no longer having to wear a protective face mask in the post-pandemic era is still feeling pretty great. Even if you're not worried about catching something, these little strips of fabric can still prove pretty beneficial for mitigating the smell of an airplane lavatory. It's a variation on an old music festival tip where folks often find themselves dealing with some seriously gnarly porta-johns. To manage the smell, festivalgoers will take "potty kits" with them that include, among other things, a bandana to help reduce the smell.

Writing on r/Bonnaroo, one user recalled, "I remember hearing somebody talk about before going into the porta potty spraying/adding some drops of essentials oils onto their changing idea." Echoing the sentiment, another commenter advised toilet users to "take some essential oil, dabble it on your bandana and you won't smell a thing besides your preferred scent." But if all this seems a bit impractical for air travel, simply taking out your old face mask pre-potty break is a fairly inconspicuous way to block any bad smells you might encounter in there.

Use Neil Patrick Harris' double-flush strategy

As a seasoned flier, Neil Patrick Harris knows a thing or two about air travel. The actor behind Doogie Howser, M.D. and Barney Stinson from "How I Met Your Mother," Harris has a real-world reputation as a super sweet dad and all-around nice guy. So, of course, he's got ideas for being a more thoughtful airplane bathroom-goer.

Outlining his favorite flying hacks to Thrillist, Neil Patrick Harris dropped a genius tip for pooping on a plane without making any in-flight enemies. For NPH, it's all about implementing the time-tested standard of public pooping: the courtesy flush. "When you have to go No. 2 in an airplane bathroom, flush while you go, then flush after you go," the actor explained. And the strategy doesn't end there. According to NPH, lathering your arms up with hand soap and then waving them all around can help mitigate any other odors hanging around in the lavatory. "Put it on your hands and all over your arms, and do, like, tai chi moves with your arms," Harris coached.