Contact Us   Site Map
Airline Mismanagement

There's nothing worse than being stuck in a long line waiting for a chance at an airplane toilet.

Some airplanes have massively better toilet/seat ratios than others.  Choose your airline and airplane carefully.

 
 
Travel Planning and Assistance
Road Warrior resources
How to Book and Buy Travel
Scary, Silly and Stupid Security Stories
Airline Reviews
Airline (Mis)!Management
Miscellaneous Features
Reference Materials
About the Travel Insider
 
Search
Looking for something else? Search over two million words of free information on our site.
Custom Search
 
Free Newsletter

In addition to our feature articles, we offer you a free weekly newsletter with a mix of news and opinions on travel related topics.

 

 View Sample
Privacy Policy

 
Help this Site
Thank you for your interest in helping this site to continue to develop. Some of the information we give you here can save you thousands of dollars the next time you're arranging travel, or will substantially help the quality of your travel experiences in other, non-cash ways. Click for more information
 
Reader's Replies

If you'd like to add your own commentary, send me a note.

 

Airplane Toilet Trends

Are the airlines providing more or fewer toilets?
 

The classic Qantas 707-138 had one of the best ever coach class toilet/seat ratios.

Ah, for the good old days.

 

 

We wrote a popular piece last week about how many restrooms should an airplane have (the answer being at least one for every 40 seats on longer flights, although fewer can be acceptable for short flights where few passengers are likely to need to use the toilets).

This caused some follow up comments and questions, and so here now is a sequel, as it were, whereby we try to establish what we've always suspected to be a trend towards fewer and fewer toilets (and more and more seats) on planes over the years.

Please read on for some introductory comments and analysis, and then a detailed table of toilet/seat ratios.

A Collection of Airplane Toilet Facts and Figures

Here are some facts and figures on planes, both current and historic, to show how these ratios have varied over the years.  There's no real science to the airlines and planes I've selected to feature - they are merely ones I could get reliable certain information about.

Note that the table of airplane configurations that follows, below, is more or less ordered by the year the configuration data relates to.

If you have information on other plane configurations and can provide me links to seat maps to confirm the configurations, I'll be pleased to add them, too.

Early Planes Not Applicable

You'll note that we don't bother showing data for very early planes.  The earliest planes didn't need toilets on board because they could only fly for an hour or two at a time before needing to refuel.

It was only when planes became capable of extended flight that it became relevant to consider adding toilets, and of course, the other related issue was for planes to be big enough to accommodate passengers and a toilet too.

Although it appears that the first plane to be designed with a toilet was a futuristic Russian plane developed just prior to World War 1, this was a one-off and not repeated for another twenty years or so.

The first relatively common planes and toilets started to appear in the mid 1930s on the magnificent flying boats.  Some of these planes even had separate male and female toilets - today's unisex trend is much more sensible, because it avoids the otherwise inevitable problem of one gender's toilet(s) being in much greater demand than the other gender's toilet(s).

Another development was also needed in order for us to be able to start to obtain meaningful data on toilet/passenger ratios - planes had to start carrying enough passengers to reasonably require multiple toilets.  There's no significance to learning that a plane that carried 15 passengers also had a toilet - the 1:15 ratio seems great, but what alternative did the airline have?  Zero toilets?  Half a toilet?  You can't have a half toilet, you have to have complete toilets.

So it is really only when we start to see passenger capacities moving up into the 30+ realm that airlines have to start deciding when and if they add a second toilet, and so on beyond that as the passenger capacities grow more and more.

Note this table primarily gives ratios calculated on the number of toilets assigned to the coach class cabin.  Generally there are adequate or better than adequate ratios of toilets for business and first class cabins.  We focus exclusively on the coach class ratio because it is normal practice to restrict the first and business class toilets to only the people in those cabins.  Rarely we'll see toilets being shared by more than one class (for example, some AA 747s) but generally each class has its own toilets.

When calculating the coach class toilet ratio, we generally include premium economy seating in that calculation, unless they clearly have a separate set of toilets just for themselves (this is rare).

An Interesting Exception

Boeing's glorious glamorous SST - the 2707, which alas never made it very much past the drawing board, had an appalling toilet ratio, and amazingly, for both coach and first class.  In a sales brochure possibly dating to 1966, Boeing showed the plane in three configurations - a standard longhaul configuration, a standard shorthaul configuration, and a high density all coach configuration.

These days it is interesting to note how much greater the percentage of seats in the first class cabin is compared to first class seats in planes today (although there are no business class or premium economy class cabins yet), but the really surprising thing is the toilet ratio.  It got as bad as 1:50 - and that is for the first class cabin as well as the coach class cabin!

While Boeing promoted the plane as being ultra-luxurious, clearly the people promoting it as such gave no thought to one of the most basic of passenger amenities, the toilet.

Where Do We Get This Information From?

Where possible, we provide a link to relevant source material.  Recent information is taken variously from Seatguru.com and airline websites.

It is possible that some of the links will fail in the future.  However, if we provide a link, that also means that we have sighted the information at that link at some point in the past and have accepted it as credible, so even if the link no longer opens, you know that we've done some quality control in the past.

Do First and Business Class Passengers Use Toilets More Frequently?

Here's an interesting question.  We know the airlines never do anything more than the absolute minimum they can get away with, an adage that is as true for first class as it is for coach class.

So if the airlines do little more than the essential minimum for first and business class passengers, it seems fair to say that their toilet ratios in their premium cabins represent fair normal toilet ratios.

If that is the case, how can the airlines justify toilet ratios sometimes four or more times worse in coach class than in first and business class?  Do first and business class passengers use their toilets four times more often than coach class passengers?

Or are the airlines rudely ignoring one of life's most appreciated courtesies - convenient access to toilet facilities - for the majority of passengers on all the planes and flights they operate?

Short Haul - Different Rules Apply

We've tended to concentrate on planes used for long-haul flights, which we sort of mean planes typically flown four or more hours at a time.

As we explain in our article about How Many Toilets Does a Plane Need, short haul flights can manage with fewer toilets due to their short flight durations and the result that many passengers just stoically 'hold it in' until reaching their destination.

So it isn't entirely fair to compare what seems to be an appallingly under-equipped 737 that is used for two hour flights or shorter with a seemingly much better 777 used for five hour flights or longer.

Smoking Guns

From the data we have assembled, it might seem that the last 30 years or so have seen consistently insufficient toilets installed on planes.  But even within the general data, there are what we term some 'smoking guns' that point to the airlines' overwhelming preference to sacrifice toilets in favor of seats, no matter how extreme the resulting lack of toilets may be.

There are some clear examples of airlines getting greedier and meaner.  In particular, some of the airlines that recently received A380s have been re-configuring their planes to fit in more seats, and to take out some toilets.  This is true at Emirates, Qantas and Singapore Airlines, with Emirates in particular needing to hang their head in shame with their newer configured A380s having an appalling 1:61 ratio for toilets to seats, one of the worst we've so far found in long-haul widebody planes.

An Interesting Current Comparison :  A380 Configurations

It can be difficult to accurately infer much from many airplane configurations, because the airplanes themselves often have a mixed history and may have been originally configured one way by one airline and then sold on or leased to another airline, and the configuration may not have been changed.

Configurations can also be 'old' - ie, they may have been in place for five or ten years or more on the same plane, or 'new' - ie, the plane may have just had its entire cabin area redone.

But there is one plane which provides an excellent 'apples to apples' comparison - the A380.

All A380s are nearly new, all are long-haul planes, and all are still owned by their original operators.

Plus, with a huge amount of cabin space and large numbers of seats, the airlines have had a great deal of freedom and flexibility to decide exactly what ratio of toilets to seats they feel most appropriate.

We've accordingly listed, below, all the A380 airplane configurations by all airlines currently (Nov 2012) flying them.

There's a wide range of ratios, from Good (China Southern 1:36; Lufthansa and Malaysia Airlines 1:38) to Ordinary to Bad to Appalling (Singapore, 1:50 and 1:57 and Emirates 1:61).

In other words, with the new A380 the worst airlines have 60% more seats per coach class toilet than the best.  Shame on Emirates for such a lack of toilets, and special thanks to China Southern for being generous with its toilet allocation.

Perceived Airline Quality No Guarantee of Toilets

Some of the world's most prestigious airlines are also some of the world's meanest airlines when it comes to toilets. Or, to be more precise, while these airlines might look after their first class passengers very well indeed, they treat their coach class passengers as disdainfully as do the airlines with some of the worst reputations.

Look no further than Emirates with its appalling 1:63 ratio on some A330s and its 1:61 ratio on its latest A380s for an example of this.

Indeed, Emirates (so far) seems to have the worst ratio for premium cabins too - on some of its A330s, 54 first and business class passengers have to share two toilets (1:27 ratio).  This is about half as many toilets as some other airlines provide for their premium passengers.

 

Table Color Key

< 1:36 Excellent
1:36 - 1:39 Good
1:40 - 1:44 Ordinary
1:45 - 1:49 Bad
1:50 > Appalling

 


Table :  Airplane Seat/Toilet Ratios
 
Year Airline Plane Passengers Toilets Coach Ratio
           
1950 Generic Comet  ~ 8F +36Y 1F + 2Y? 1:18
1950s-60s Generic DC-7 42 all F 4 1:11
1958 Qantas 707-138 40F, 50Y 2F + 3Y 1:17

mid 60s Boeing proposal 2707 SST 28F + 249Y for longhaul 1F + 5Y 1:50
1966 Qantas 707-138 20F, 78-84Y 2F + 3Y 1:26 - 1:28

~ 1970s American 707-100 14F + 123Y 1F + 3Y 1:41
1977 American 707-323B 14F + 135Y 1F + 3Y 1:45
1977 American 747-100 66F + 330Y 2F + 8Y 1:41
1977 American DC-10-10 44F + 220Y 2F + 5Y 1:44
1979 United 747 26F + 348Y 1F + 10Y 1:35
1979 United DC-10-10 40F + 214Y 2F + 6Y 1:36
1983 American 747 16F + 443Y 1F + 12Y 1:37
1983 American 747 46F + 44B + 330Y 3F/B + 8Y 1:41
1983 American DC-10 38F, 32B, 189Y 2F + 2B + 5Y 1:38
1983 American DC-10-30 26F, 28B, 186Y 2F + 2B + 4Y 1:47
1985 American DC-10-30 25F + 36B + 180Y 2F + 2B + 4Y 1:45
1987 American 767-200 14F + 30B + 140Y 1F + 0B + 4Y 1:43 B+Y
1987 American DC-10 16F + 297Y 2F + 6Y 1:50
1987 Continental 747 24F + 446Y ?F + 12Y 1:37
1987 Continental DC-10-30 24F + 31B + 195Y 2F + 2B + 4Y 1:49
1987 Delta 767-200 18F + 186Y 1F + 4Y 1:47
1987 Delta L1011 12F + 54B + 203Y 2F + 2B + 5Y 1:41
1987 Delta L1011 28F + 48B + 199Y 2F/B + 5Y 1:40
1987 Delta L1011 32F + 270Y dom 2F + 5Y 1:54
1987 Delta L1011-500 12F + 40B + 189Y 2F + 1B + 5Y 1:38
1987 Delta DC-8-60 18F + 194Y 2F + 4Y 1:49
1987 Delta DC-10 36F + 248Y 2F + 7Y 1:35
1987 Eastern DC-10-30 12F, 36B, 200Y 2F + 2B + 4Y 1:50
1987 Eastern L1011 28F + 288Y 2F + 5Y 1:58
1987 Northwest 747 18F + 48B + 334Y 5F/B + 8Y 1:42
1987 Northwest 757-200 14F + 170Y 1F + 3Y 1:57
1987 Northwest DC10-40 18F + 266Y 1F + 6Y 1:44
1987 Pan Am 747 21F + 44B + 347Y 3F/B + 10Y 1:35
1987 Piedmont 767-200ER 25B + 185Y 1F + 4Y 1:46
1987 TWA 747-100 21F + 52B + 358Y 3F/B + 8Y 1:45
1987 TWA 767-200 15F + 40B + 129Y 1F + 2B + 2Y 1:65
1987 TWA L1011 18F + 40B + 214Y 2F/B + 5Y 1:43
1987 United (ex PA) 747-200 35F + 100B + 212Y 4F/B + 8Y 1:27
1987 United 767-200 24F + 180Y 1F + 4Y 1:45
1987 United DC-8-70 26F + 174Y 1F + 2? +2Y 1:44 if 4
1987 United (ex PA) L1011-500 36F + 32B + 140Y 2F + 2B + 4Y 1:35
1987 World Airways DC-10-30 354Y 9Y 1:39
1980s Cathay Pacific 747-200 35F + 92B + 236Y 1F + 3B + 6Y 1:39
1988 Cathay Pacific 747-400 30F + 103B + 230Y 2F + 5B + 6Y 1:38
1989 Cathay Pacific 747-300 29F + 63B + 330Y 2F + 3B + 8Y 1:41
1989 Pan Am 747 40F 48B 259Y 10Y 1:26
late 80s - 92 American 747SP 29F + 78B + 78Y 2F + 5B + 4Y 1:20


1990s United DC-10-10 28F + 259Y 2F + 6Y 1:43
< 2003 Northwest DC-10 40F + 196Y 2F + 5Y 1:39
< 2010 Northwest 747 32F + 33Y sharing with F, and 304Y not sharing 8Y 1:38
< 2010 Northwest A330 34B + 264Y 2B + 6Y 1:44
1990s BA & AF Concorde 92 - 104 3 1:31 - 1:35
1995 United 777-200 12F + 49B + 231Y 2F + 2B + 6Y 1:39
1998 United 767-300 10F + 38B + 158Y 2F + 2B + 4Y 1:40
1998 United 747-400 36F + 123B +  142Y  5F? + 4B + 4Y 1:36


2008 Air Canada 777-200 42F + 228Y 3F + 5Y 1:46
< 2012 Delta 767-300 24F + 230Y 1F + 5Y 1:46
2012 Air NZ 747-400 46B + 39PE + 294Y 2B + 2B/PE + 10Y 1:29
2012 Air NZ 777-200 26B + 36PE + 242Y 3B + 7PE/Y 1:40
2012 Air NZ 777-300 44B + 44PE + 244Y 3B + 2PE + 6Y 1:41
2012 Emirates A330-200 27B + 251Y 2B + 4Y 1:63
2012 Emirates A330-200 12F + 42B + 183Y 2F/B + 4Y 1:46
2012 Etihad A330-200 22B + 240Y 2B + 6Y 1:40
2012 Etihad A330-200 10F + 26B + 164Y 2F + 2B + 4Y 1:41
2012 Etihad A330-200 12F + 24B + 180Y 2F + 2B + 4Y 1:45
2012 Eva Air A330-200 24B + 228Y 2B + 6Y 1:38
2012 KLM A330-200 30B + 257Y 2B + 5Y 1:51
2012 - older Air France A380 9F + 80B + 449Y 2F + 4B + 10Y 1:45
2012 - newer Air France A380 9F + 62B + 38PE + 407Y 2F + 4B + 9Y 1:45
2012 China Southern A380 8F + 70B + 428Y 1F + 3B + 12Y 1:36
2012 - older Emirates A380 14F + 76B + 399Y 9Y 1:44
2012 - newer Emirates A380 14F + 76B + 427Y 7Y 1:61
2012 Korean Air A380 12F + 94B + 301Y 2F + 5B + 7Y 1:43
2012 Lufthansa A380 8F + 98B + 420Y 11Y 1:38
2012 Malaysia Airlines A380 8F + 66B + 420Y 3F + 4B + 11Y 1:38
2012 - older Qantas A380 14F + 72B + 32PE + 332Y (all on lower deck) 8Y 1:42
2012 - newer Qantas A380 14F + 64B + 35PE + 371Y (341 on lower deck) 7Y lower deck 1:49 on lower deck
2012 - older Singapore Airlines A380 12F + 60B + 399Y (some on each level) 8Y 1:50
2012 - newer Singapore Airlines A380 12F + 60B + 399Y (all on lower deck) 7Y 1:57
2012 Thai Airways A380 12F + 60B + 435Y 10Y
1:44
2012 Aeroflot 767-300 30B + 199Y 2B + 2Y 1:100
2012 Aeroflot A330-200 34B + 207Y 2B + 6Y 1:35
2012 Aeroflot IL96-200 22B + 261Y 2B + 6Y 1:44
2012 ANA 787 46B + 112Y 3B + 3Y 1:37

 

Notes

Sometimes it has not been clear which cabin a particular toilet is designated for.  We've tried to make the best guess we can in such cases, or alternatively have shown them as being shared among several cabins.

Sometimes poor scans of airplane layouts has made it difficult to ascertain how many toilets are in a block of toilets.  Again we've attempted to make the best guess we can as to the count.

If you have information to the contrary, and can correct or enhance any of our results, please let us know.

Summary

Although some of the very early planes definitely had great toilet/seat ratios, the concept of cutting back on toilets is clearly nothing new - with the first time a toilet/seat ratio of 1:50 or worse occurring being revealed in a 1987 seating chart for an Eastern Airlines L1011 (1:58) and several other airlines and planes also revealing worse than 1:50 ratios at that time too.

Distressingly (in all meanings of the word) the new A380 super jumbo planes - airplanes that the airlines originally dreamed fancifully of including lounges, shopping arcades, bars and other amenities in, show that no matter how big the plane may be, airlines consistently choose more seats over more comfort.

There can be considerable differences between planes when you choose your airline and flight, so if this is an important factor to you, you should check out the toilet/seat ratio as part of your overall flight selection process.

For more insight into this topic, please also see our article How Many Restrooms Are Enough on a Plane?

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 16 Nov 2012, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

Your Feedback

How Would You Rate this Article

Poor
Average
Good

Was the Article Length and Coverage

Too short/simplistic
About right 
Too long/complex

Would You Like More Articles on this Subject

No
Maybe
Yes

Back to Top