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An Open Letter To United Airlines Pilots

by Staff

As a follow-up to my locked lavatory story, I’ve composed an open letter to pilots at United Airlines.

Dear United Airlines Pilots:

First, I want to thank you for your overall professionalism, skill, and commitment to safety. I’ve flown close to two million miles on United over the last 20 years and never had a safety concern. During that time, I’ve interacted with countless pilots who have not only been proficient but the sort of men and women whom I deeply respect. Like Denny Flanagan or Alberto Diaz or Jed Baum or Raul Boerner.

Today, I want to return to the issue of locking the lavatory…and more importantly, the reactions and comments I received from many pilots, some of which approached unhinged lunacy. If you missed the earlier story, a friend of mine recently flew on a United 767-400 in Polaris Business Class from Washington to Munich. That aircraft has two lavatories in the rear of business class for 34 passengers and no forward lavatories.

Onboard, he experienced that one of the lavatories was locked for the entire flight. Four times during the flight he tried to use the lavatory and found it locked. When he asked a pilot about it, he was told it was locked for “security” reasons.

This isn’t my first rodeo…I’ve been writing this blog for nearly 15 years and I am well aware of the procedure for keeping the lavatory locked during the pilot rotation, which typically happens at the start and end of each flight for 10-20 minutes. That was not the case here.

And yet I was called every name under the sun (read all 190+ comments…). Many pilots weighed in with comments like this:

Pilots are FLYING THE PLANE and are charged with your safety. Their schedule in flight is tight and regulated. They need access to the facility and should not have to wait because some entitled a-hole is holed up in the bathroom.

The 767-400 has limited facilities. Take a walk back to coach and try your chances.

Nice to know how passengers are perceived…

or this:

Yes, this is for security and safety. If there is a bathroom up front it is simply blocked while pilots are using the bathroom. Unfortunately, these are behind business. This is poor journalism to publish misinformation and assumptions before finding out the facts.

There were dozens of more comments assuming that I must have been misinformed and that my friend was clearly lying or not paying attention.

No. That wasn’t the case. The lavatory was locked throughout the flight.

And I was quite charitable too: I mentioned that this must be a rare occurrence because I have never seen a lavatory locked for the entire flight in my two million miles on United. I have seen a forward lavatory locked on Lufthansa, SAS, and Turkish Airlines, so this certainly does occur. In fact, Lufthansa even has a placard on its A350 for this:

a sign on a wall
There are two lavatories in the rear, but there is also a forward lavatory that is routinely reserved for crew members only.

But I also received comment after comment from passengers who also experienced locked lavatories for the entire flight. I asked about it on FlyerTalk as well, where more passengers came forward with similar stories: the lavatory was locked throughout their United flight.

So no pilots, do not insult our intelligence by saying this never happens. It may be rare (I think it is rare), but it DOES happen and appears to happen more often than I thought.

Locking the lavatory temporarily for rotational duties not only is reasonable, but makes perfect sense. Locking it for the entire flight? Not cool.

Please be mindful of your guests, just as you ask them to be mindful of you.


image: vintage United Airlines ad

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