Can you use the First Class lavatory when flying Economy?
It’s a question that has divided passengers for many years and led to a lot of crappy situations.
But what do airlines have to say about this question?
In this article, I’ll break down everything you need to know about using the First Class restroom as an Economy passenger.
I’ll talk about the policies for the major US airlines and give you some insight into how those may or may not be enforced.
I’ll also provide some tips that you can use to avoid unnecessary confrontations when trying to relieve yourself.
Can you use the First Class lavatory when in Economy?
In general, you should strive to use the bathroom located within the cabin that you are ticketed in.
However, some airlines will allow Economy passengers to use the First Class bathrooms on domestic flights.
This is usually the case if:
- 1) Aisle access to the rear (aft) bathroom is blocked by a food/drink cart
- 2) You’re a passenger falling within a special group
- 3) There is an emergency bathroom situation
Aisle access blocked
Beverage carts were seemingly designed to occupy 99.99% of the aisle making it impossible for some passengers to pass through.
For that reason, a lot of flight attendants will be understanding and allow you to use the lavatory upfront because you don’t have an alternative.
Special passengers (disabilities, elderly, etc.)
Passengers with disabilities, the elderly, and children such as unaccompanied minors (UMs), are usually given a pass when it comes to the front bathroom.
And this makes sense.
Making them go all the way to the back could be a big inconvenience and it would not be a very good look by the airlines if they pushed back on people falling into these groups and something happened.
If you qualify for preboarding there’s a high chance you could use the First Class lavatory without a problem.
Emergency bathroom situations
If you expressed that you’re dealing with an emergency bathroom situation whether number one or two (details not always necessary), any reasonable flight attendant should allow you to use a lavatory upfront if the one in the back is not a practical option.
For example, if you’re mid “pee dance” but there is someone standing outside the lavatory in the back while the First Class lavatory is open, that should be enough for you to get access.
Using the First Class lavatory for convenience
In some cases, the crew will let Economy passengers use the First Class lavatory just as a matter of convenience. No urgency needed.
The proper etiquette here is probably for only Economy passengers sitting near the First Class cabin to do this. Otherwise, there could be too much traffic in First Class. This is essentially the policy of JetBlue.
Just be sure to always give priority to First Class passengers (unless it’s an emergency).
Tip: Remember, some aircraft like the Boeing 737-800 may have two lavatories in the back.
Practical advice to avoid starring in the next viral video
Some airlines have officially stated their policies on Economy passengers using the First Class restrooms but these stated policies can be a little vague or difficult/impossible to find.
And when you do find them they could be outdated or in contradiction to what you hear from airline representatives.
Plus, there doesn’t always seem to be uniform enforcement of these so-called policies, so you don’t always know how flight attendants will react.
So my advice would be the following:
Always try to use the lavatory in your specific cabin. Life will usually be easier for everyone involved if you do this.
If you want to use the First Class lavatory purely as a matter of convenience you may attempt to do so but you should probably only do this when seated close to First Class. Also, know that this is not in line with most airline policies.
However, as long as you’re sly and not crop dusting First Class passengers, it probably won’t be an issue.
If you are sitting in Economy and need to use the bathroom but don’t have access due to a cart in the aisle, feel free to head to the First Class lavatory.
If you fall into one of the special groups mentioned above (elderly, etc.), head to the First Class lavatory if it’s an issue heading to the aft.
In the event you come across a flight attendant, feel free to give them a brief explanation about what’s going on and stress the urgency of the situation (if needed).
Abide by what a flight attendant tells you unless you absolutely have no choice other than enduring severe discomfort/emptying your contents on yourself.
If you are still reprimanded for using the First Class bathroom under those circumstances, don’t react in any way that could be considered a threat or intimidation because that could land you in legal trouble.
Instead, take your story public later on and expose that airline for borderline inhumane treatment.
As passengers, we have to draw the line somewhere.
A @united flight attendant just no joke threatened to emergency land the plane because an economy passenger used the first class bathroom. And she called the air marshall!— Megan Rose (@MegMcCloskey) August 24, 2019
US airlines are much more strict about the bathroom policies when flying back into the US on an international flight.
On those flights, Economy passengers may be prevented from using First Class lavatories. This is apparently a TSA imposed rule so I would not test it.
Another thing about international flights is that it’s common to be kept out of nicer First Class cabins.
For example, an Economy passenger flying an international flight on Emirates is not going to be allowed anywhere near the First Class bathroom where you can find a shower and spa-like experience.
(Because there are so many aisles and other bathrooms located on these larger wide-body planes, accessing a lavatory is usually not a major problem.)
Economy Plus, Premium Class, etc.
You might be wondering if things are a little bit different whenever you’re flying something like Economy Plus, Premium Class, etc.
These are those Economy seats with extra legroom that sometimes come with additional perks like free drinks or priority boarding.
A lot of times the seats are located directly behind First Class which makes using the First Class lavatory extremely convenient compared to walking all the way to the back of the plane.
Sitting here won’t automatically give you access to the front lavatories but….
In my experience, it’s easiest to get away with using the First Class lavatory when seated in these sections because you can slip right into the First Class cabin virtually unnoticed.
I wouldn’t attempt that on an international flight coming into the US but my gut tells me that flight attendants might be more forgiving for these passengers in other situations.
“Not Allowed To Congregate”
You’ve probably heard the flight attendants announce that you’re not allowed to congregate at the front of the plane.
This is a security issue and flight attendants are often pretty strict about not allowing lines to form at the front of the plane.
This is why some people will simply stand in the aisle as they wait for the bathroom to open.
Also, sometimes the pilots have to relieve themselves mid-flight (no, they don’t have their own personal bathroom in the cockpit).
When this happens, nobody is allowed at the lavatory and so if you’re trying to come in from Economy, you may be denied access to the First Class cabin area.
Arguments for and against
There are many opinions out there when it comes to this issue of potty rights.
Some people couldn’t care less while others are vehemently against Economy passengers encroaching into their sacred territory.
Some passengers state that flying is merely a method of public transportation and that no public bathroom should be off-limits, especially when you consider how many Economy passengers there are.
My stance on it is that First Class passengers are given certain privileges like extra legroom, priority boarding, free drinks, etc. One of these privileges is a smaller ratio of passengers-to-bathrooms and the quietness and convenience that comes from that.
So Economy passengers should normally not use the lavatories in First Class but if one of the special circumstances mentioned above applies then they should be given access (ideally with minimal dirty looks).
Airline policies on First Class lavatories
Now let’s get into what specific airlines have stated.
You won’t find a lot of published policies and so I checked with individual representatives to get confirmation on the official policy of each airline.
Alaska Airlines is one of the few airlines to clearly publish their bathroom policy.
They state: “Guests should use the restroom in their assigned cabins, and are required to do so on inbound international flights; exceptions may be made for guests with special needs.”
American Airlines has a reputation for allowing Economy passengers to use the First Class lavatories. When I contacted a representative, they seemed to more or less confirm this.
They said that the First Class lavatories are reserved for First Class passengers but if the lavatory for Main Cabin is full, you can request to use the one upfront.
This is a pretty reasonable policy and probably what most airlines abide by.
Delta Airlines is said to have a policy similar to Alaska.
When I inquired with an agent to confirm I was told that Delta Airlines does not have an official policy on this and to check with the flight attendant on my flight.
So when it comes to Delta, it might be best to request access from a crew member before heading in from Economy.
A JetBlue representative told me that they do not have designated First Class lavatories and that you can use the bathroom closest to your seat. This was the only major US airline that confirmed Economy passengers could use “First Class” lavatories.
Southwest Airlines does not have a First Class cabin so this is not an issue for passengers flying Southwest.
During the pandemic, United Airlines temporary allowed Economy passengers to use the First Class bathrooms and vice versa.
Many people wondered if this policy would last post-pandemic and so I contacted a United Airlines representative to clarify.
The United Airlines agent told me that Economy Class passengers are NOT allowed to use the First Class lavatory.
Though again, only First Class passengers are able to use the First Class bathrooms, we apologize again for any frustration and will be happy to pass your feedback along internally to the appropriate team. ^CM— United Airlines (@united) December 6, 2021
It’s worth remembering that these stated policies are not always enforced.
For example, I’ve seen Economy passengers head to the First Class bathroom on United flights without any questions asked. Same with Alaska.
In reality, whether or not an Economy passenger can use the First Class lavatory with no issues may just come down to the temperament of the crew on that particular flight.
That’s just yet another reason why being friendly and personable with flight attendants is a good idea.
The bathroom access also tends to become more of an issue when lots of economy passengers are accessing the First Class lavatory.
Another issue with these bathrooms is them not being accessible but that might soon be changing.
A proposed rule would require airlines to make at least one lavatory large enough for passengers with disabilities to get inside and maneuver. This would only apply to new single-aisle aircraft with 125 or more passenger.
We will see how that proposal works out and how it affects policies for lavatories in the future.
Airline lavatory policies can be hard to keep up with because they seem to change and the enforcement does not always seem to align with what is told to customers.
In the end, I say to use the bathroom in your ticketed cabin unless you have an urgent need. In those situations, try to express the urgency and I doubt you would have many issues.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.