Brushing Teeth in an Airplane Lavatory

During a recent flight to Europe, I sat in my seat and noticed the line forming around the lavatory, as is usually the manner after the members of the flight crew remove the empty trays, wrappers, cups, and assorted food scraps from the tray tables of each passenger seated in the economy class cabin aboard the airplane.

Brushing Teeth in an Airplane Lavatory

Each person who used the lavatory consumed a few minutes before leaving so that the next person in line may use it.

One of the people who stood in this line was a man whose back towards me as he was adjacent to the seat in front of him. In his hand was a toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste. Not knowing what else someone does with both a tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush, jumping to the conclusion that he was going to brush his teeth while in the lavatory was a fairly safe assumption.

When the person in front of him finished using the lavatory, he entered; closed and locked the door; and stayed in there. Fellow passengers who were behind him in line awaited his exit from the lavatory.

Five minutes pass. Ten minutes pass. 15 minutes have elapsed. The line grew longer as people anxiously anticipated his emerging from the lavatory — and they were certainly not happy. At least one woman left the back of the line to use a different lavatory aboard the airplane.

After almost 20 minutes, he finally emerged from the lavatory — slowly — and eventually shuffled his way down the aisle towards his seat.


I get it: people have their grooming habits to which they are accustomed; and I admire those people for keeping such a strict regimen. Some people must brush their teeth so many times in a day and at certain hours of the day. Perhaps they want to avoid using a public restroom at the airport; or maybe they may arrive at the hotel too late to first start brushing their teeth…

…but should a passenger use a lavatory for almost 20 minutes to brush his teeth? Could he really not have waited until after the conclusion of the flight to brush his teeth so that other passengers may have use of the lavatory? As an example, if there were only four lavatories aboard the aircraft, that means that 25 percent of them were “out of commission” and unusable by fellow passengers.

In my opinion, embarking on travel means sacrificing some paradigms and rituals. It may mean a trade-off between normal habits and having some courtesy for fellow passengers. I personally would never consider tying up a lavatory aboard an airplane — especially after the collection of refuse from a meal service — to brush my teeth, as I have respect for the needs of fellow passengers. Unless an emergency is in effect, I strive to ensure that my time inside of a lavatory of an airplane is kept to a minimum.

What would be your thoughts on a minimum time limit when using the lavatory aboard an airplane other than for using the toilet and washing hands afterwards? Should there even be a minimum time limit at all?

The indicator on the bulkhead wall that the lavatory is currently in use was illuminated at the time the photograph was taken. Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

18 thoughts on “Brushing Teeth in an Airplane Lavatory”

  1. Hal says:

    How do you know he didn’t also take a shit in the bathroom?

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I was close enough to the lavatory that I would have definitely known, Hal

      …but I did hear one passenger after him complain that the sink was backed up and full of water — although that could have been caused by a different passenger…

  2. flossy says:

    He probably was making a nice post-dinner man poop and then brushed his teeth. Or he could have had trouble flushing his poop and needed to flush several times. Maybe he was also bathing? Who knows?

  3. Mary says:

    I guess it depends on the length of the flight. On my 17 hours flight from LAX to SIN, I would definitely have a brush teeth component

  4. derek says:

    Brushing teeth on a transatlantic flight is ok. I try to do it fast. If lots of people do this, airlines should start thinking of having exterior basins.

  5. colleen says:

    I’m with Hal. Who knows what other activities were taken care of in those 20 minutes? Brushing his teeth may have taken up the last three.

    While I share the frustration with “long-timers” toward the end of the flight, I have nothing to judge. I’ve tapped my foot for plenty of minutes waiting for these pre-landing folks, but who are we to judge?

  6. r m a h says:


    “As an example, if there were only four lavatories aboard the aircraft, that means that 25 percent of them ~~was~~ “out of commission” and unusable by fellow passengers.”

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I am appreciative as always, r m a h — and the text in question has since been corrected.

      Thank you.

  7. Robert D says:

    I always brush my teeth before landing on a long-haul flight. I’ve never thought much about it. Usually there are plenty of lavatories to go around.

  8. Sean says:

    On a longhaul flight, I always brush my teeth. Usually it doesn’t take 20 mins, but there have been occasions when I need to use the bathroom, change clothes and brush my teeth. At 6’4″, changing clothes can take a while in a small lav on its own, so I know I’ve been well over 5 minutes before – maybe approaching 10. But not 20.

  9. Sean says:

    I just got off a SYD SFO Y leg 12 hours ago. It was primarily overnight for SYD passengers so they were asleep, but there were 5 Y bathrooms between the left and the right galley. Honestly I probably spent as much time as this guy did a few times over. But jet lag + mileage run + not wanting to interrupt my neighbor .. and not sit for 14 hours in Y….

  10. Kory says:

    This is pretty hilarious cuz I’ve had discussions with frequent flier friends on pooping on a plane. There are definitely people who try to make it clearly obvious that they have a toothbrush or some other hygienic item so as to hide the fact that when they’re in a bathroom for over a couple minutes, brushing their teeth was why they were in the lav for a long time and not the reality they were taking a dump on a plane. Some people also will stay in a lav for a bit to make sure the smell goes away so as to not give away the fact that they were going numero dos.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Believe it or not, Kory, I had not thought of that…

      …but then I have to wonder: what if the odor is strong enough that it is difficult to dissipate — and what is the best deodorizer for that purpose?

      1. cheeseburger says:

        @Brian, I read somewhere recently that a dish of ground coffee (dry) on the counter is used sometimes for this purpose. Whether there is “counter space” available, is another issue, though…

        1. flossy says:

          You can always get poopouiri or any other similar type of travel sized pre-poo spray. Just spray into the toilet before you go. It is a lifesaver especially on a stinky plane!

        2. Brian Cohen says:

          I prefer using a match which was lit and then blown out as a deodorizer, cheeseburger

          …but I think we all know what would probably happen as a result of doing that aboard an airplane…

  11. DaninMCI says:

    Maybe he was praying to Allah? Well unless it was a new AA 737 lav 🙂 sounds like a long time. I sometimes will use the lav to take out my contact and brush my teeth but it doesn’t take 20 minutes. I just hope no one uses the plane tap water to rinse mouth. It is basically not potable water quality. I use a disposable tooth brush or bottled water for this.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You are correct about the quality of the water aboard an airplane, DaninMCI

      …and the airplane in question was a Boeing 757-200 aircraft operated by Delta Air Lines. The lavatory seen in the photograph at the top of this article is the actual one which the man used to brush his teeth — or whatever he was doing in there…

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