There you are, sitting in a metal tube flying high above the Earth at 34,000 feet, and only one hour to go before the captain announces it’s time to put your tray tables and seat backs in their fully upright and locked positions, and prepare for landing.
Normally, this wouldn’t be a time to panic — unless, of course, you’re afraid of flying, in which case, any time is a time to panic — but this trip, your future in-laws are picking you up from the airport. And every minute you spend generating sweaty heat with your legs and arms locked together in your 17 inch-wide seat, is a minute you’re getting increasingly disheveled and odorific.
Sure, you could keep your seatbelt on as you apply that sad stick of deodorant you pulled out of your carry-on, hoping it does just enough of the trick to mask how truly rank your voyage has made you. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and so, in order to put your best foot forward, you opt to “freshen up” in the airplane lavatory.
But how to do it?
I spoke to three flight attendants — i.e, the kind of folks who know their way around the world’s smallest restroom — about the best way to make use of the lav to feel and look your best after a long flight.
Time Isn’t On Your Side
“You need to be in and out of there quick,” says Katie, a flight attendant based out of Los Angeles. “Don’t imagine for a second that you’re going to have the time to primp like you might at home. Do only the essentials — wash your face, get your pits. And if you have to, maybe a quick outfit change.”
“Remember, there’s maybe only one, two or three lavs for anywhere from 80 to 160 people,” Eric, a flight attendant based in Atlanta, adds. “You don’t want to take any longer than you have to — like the length of a short poop.”
Use Your Surfaces
Airplane restrooms aren’t just small, they’re pretty gross, too. This means you’ll need to be strategic about where you put your stuff — and where you put your exposed body. “If you can fit everything on it, the best place to put your stuff is on the ledge, next to the sink,” Eric explains. “Alternatively, if the lav has one of those sliding knobs to lock the door, you can use it as a coat-hanger or a hook for your dopp kit, too.”
If you need more clean surfaces than that, though, you’re going to have to get dirty before you get clean. “If you absolutely must change your clothes, consider picking the lav with the baby-changing table,” says Katie. “I mean, yes, people are changing poopy diapers on it, but with a quick wipe-down with a paper towel and some soap and water, it’s got to be better than putting your stuff on top of the toilet.”
When it comes to public restrooms, we all know guys are monsters, so if you’re changing your bottoms and don’t want to stand in other dudes’ splashback, consider your feet. “Your shoes make a great, if not entirely stable, surface to stand on in case you’re swapping your pants,” Eric says.
Don’t Take a Shower — Take a Navy Shower
Since you don’t have a lot of time, you’ll want to wash up as fast as you can. “Your face, armpits and crotch are probably what needs washing the most,” explains Eric. “If your toiletries aren’t easy to access, get a paper towel wet with soap and water for the second two, then apply deodorant if you need it. Don’t use the lav soap for your face, though — it’s not exactly the good stuff. Instead, maybe just splash your face with some cold water, and pat it dry with paper towels.” Clean enough!
On Second Thought, There are Probably Better Options for Changing on the Ground
As you can see, getting ready in an airplane restroom is certainly possible. That said, not everyone I spoke to was onboard (get it?) with the idea. “Please do not ever get ready in an airplane lavatory,” argues redditor u/klesewo, who private messaged me after I posed the question on the r/flightattendants subreddit. “This shouldn’t be an article because it shouldn’t be done. You’re hogging it from other passengers and lavs are usually in/near galleys where we are trying to work. We do not need a line or a crowd. Plus, even with the seatbelt sign off you shouldn’t be out of your seat for that long. Unexpected turbulence can hit at any moment. Be a normal person and get ready in the airport bathroom if you must. Touch up your powder or lipstick in the lav, sure, but do not try to get ready.”