In which I review an airport restroom

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While this is a rare class of post from me, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport (MSP) is no stranger to restroom stories. But this one is good and has nothing to do with Larry Craig.

I’ve always loved MSP, as far as airports go. I’ve spent some time there (I know which gate the rolling beds are at), and—in my experience—it’s one of the best airports in the country to be stuck at for any extended period of time1.

They did a complete redesign of gate G17 (where Delta flights to San Francisco board), and it was insanely good. Other gates have followed since. Booth seating through the whole gate, every outlet has a USB port, iPads at every table, and a dedicated food court with a good beer selection. But that pales in comparison to the beauty of the new bathrooms near F10.

From the second I walked in, I knew this bathroom was special. I also knew that the day would eventually come that I would review an airport bathroom, a prospect that had never crossed my mind previously. Yelp and FourSquare reviews will back me up on this.

The traffic flow was great. Circular entryways have become common, but there’s still a good chance you’ll have to do the left-right-excuse-me dance with someone while dragging your carry-on behind you. The openness of the redesigned entryway reached a solid balance between obfuscation of the interior and freedom of movement.

Upon entering, things are where you want them to be. In men’s restrooms, the current norm seems to be a room full of urinals, a row of sinks, then a room full of stalls. That might be a priority list, but on a busy day it causes traffic jams when there are lines at any of them. This bathroom had its facilities spread out in a way that you could walk in and be where you wanted to be without having to peek around any corners. I imagine the women’s restroom has a similar layout, though I did no investigation.

The thing that struck me most, though, was the stall. A thing of beauty. Something that in a perfect world you would take for granted, but for anyone who’s used a restroom at any airport, this might as well have had a track of angels singing when you crossed the threshold.

First, there are no gaps on the sides of the door, and the walls of every stall go to the floor. There are air-passage breaks in the base of the wall, but if you drop change out of your pocket, there’s a 96% chance it won’t roll into the next stall.2 In terms of a public restroom, it’s complete privacy. I was never a big fan of locker rooms in school, and I’ve always hated that there was a certain air of that in public restrooms.

Next, the hooks for hanging bags are by the stool, not on the back of the door. If you’re going to sit for a bit, and your entire life is currently contained in a backpack, your only choice for accessing it is usually to put your bag on the floor in front of you. In this case, it’s a roomy stall (back to front), and that would leave you in the usual position of choosing between “bag on the bathroom floor” and “semi-safely suspended.” The hooks in this restroom are positioned not only closer to the stool, but at a height that actually makes sense for a seated adult human.

Then there are cubbies. Recesses in the wall deep enough to set a phone and other miscellaneous items you might need to temporarily let go of while taking care of other priorities. I’m not suggesting a level of cleanliness suitable to putting down your protein bar, but a little common sense and it’s handy to the point that it’s disturbing that this isn’t always a thing. If you think it seems unsanitary, just imagine what happens to those items if you can’t set them down.

When you enter the stall, the toilet flushes. Just to be sure. I think this is partly because the auto-flush mechanism also has a less-sensitive sensor, which means no random flushes while you’re seated. Uninvited bidets in a public restroom have never been on my bucket list, and it happens to me too often. I tried repeatedly to get a “false flush” on these thrones, and it couldn’t be done. It only flushed after I’d stood completely up and stepped away, with about a 3-second additional delay.

The only thing I didn’t find in this stall that I’ve appreciated in other restrooms is the auto-rotating seat covers that some restrooms at O’Hare have. It would be a nice finishing touch.

Next, you go to wash your hands. The sinks are immediately available, grouped in threes, with drying stations at every set. No more washing in a long row, then walking to the exit and standing in line to dry your hands. It’s right there, a maximum of a few feet from any wash basin.

The motion-sensitive, touch-free faucets responded perfectly. I’ve rarely seen one actually work in any manner beyond just “acceptable given I don’t want to touch the handle.” These were far more accurate than usual. The pre-foamed soap dispensers as well, which precisely released a gentle dollop of foam straight down, instead of forcing you to move your hands repeatedly until they randomly fire it at your chest like they were casting you for a movie you didn’t choose to be in.

I last travelled through MSP about 6 months ago3, and this experience ranks among the most memorable events of the trip, which was a planned vacation and one that I enjoyed very much, so that’s saying a lot. I really hope this is the vanguard bathroom for a new, improved level of airport travel.

★★★★★ WOULD POOP AGAIN.

  1. I did 14 hours straight at the Las Vegas airport once, and came out $150 ahead thanks to the room full of slots and cigarette smoke. I’m told that’s impressive due to airport slots being under international gaming laws at the time, but I don’t know much about that.

  2. They’re also deep enough that no one can easily stick a toe into your stall, avoiding awkward confrontations, if you follow me.

  3. And at that point, the “old” restrooms were still available across the walkway, so you could comparison shop, were you so inclined.