Airport bathroom attendants. What’s the deal?

mintsIn most bathrooms you get in, do your business, wash your hands, and get out. Maybe there is a line, maybe not. But basically everyone is in there so they can take care  of things and leave. Sometimes, though, there’s someone else in there: the airport bathroom attendant. The last time I flew through Charlotte, I had to dash from my plane to the loo. As I hurried in I almost crashed into the lady standing by the table full of mouthwash, mints, lotion, and feminine supplies. Was not expecting that!

When I recounted the story to the Home Warrior he had no idea what I was talking about. “You mean…they just sit there?  And give you mints or lotion or whatever?” And I’m like, yep, plus they clean. That’s basically it. The thing is, it makes me uncomfortable. Like, really uncomfortable. I appreciate the cleaning, of course, and the cheerful greetings. But I’m not going to take mints or mouthwash or feminine items from a random person. And the tip jar…. I never bring cash with me on trips, except for a small amount for my parking shuttle driver. Having a tip jar in a bathroom  just feels so wrong. And then I feel awkward walking past the attendant and smiling and saying thank you but not tipping. Even though they didn’t actually do anything for me I still feel guilty. Ugh.

I found an article about it in the Charlotte Observer from earlier this year. It said that they started the program to improve cleaning–that restrooms stay cleaner with someone assigned to it instead of a rotating crew. Also, few people actually took the mints–they were just supposed to be a cue for tipping. I wasn’t too surprised to read the Charlotte airport gets a lot of complaints about it. And best of all, they are ending the bathroom attendant program this summer and just paying people to clean the bathroom like normal. Phew!

Readers, what are your thoughts about bathroom attendants? Ever seen them? Do you tip?

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  1. I have met plenty of bathroom attendants during my more than 30 years of international travels. Varied examples:

    (1) Here in Nairobi, Kenya, which has been home for the past six years, there are attendants in many (I believe all) the female and male bathrooms of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) departures area. They are there to keep the bathrooms reasonably clean and they occasionally hand paper towels to those who are washing their hands. Yes, I try to tip them and they are delighted. Not many do so, I suspect.

    (2) In West African airports that I used heavily in the late 1980s – 2010 (Robertsfield, Liberia; Dakar, Senegal; Conakry, Guinea: Abidjan, Ivory Coast, to name a few) the attendants were of a different lot. They will “salt” a plate with relatively-large banknotes than are used for tipping, along with a few coins, obviously to lure users of bathrooms to give similarly-sized gratuities. So I would tell them “Why do you leave your money on the plate, aren’t you afraid someone might take it?”

    (3) In Conakry, Guinea, the attendants used to hide the toilet paper so that they would get tipped for producing them. (During those years I did not come across any airport lounges where I could obtain showers.)

    (4) There are also bathroom attendants at lounges in certain Middle East airports. My experience with them was on the other end of the scale as compared to the attendants in West African airports. In 2015 I travelled through Doha Hamad International Airport six times and I used one of the airport lounges during most of those trips. The attendants made sure that the shower stall I was about to use was spic-and-span, and they brought me the bathroom towels, shampoo, razor blades, and other amenities.

  2. They used to be far more common, and commonplace in very high end establishments. They should be considered a luxury. True, most of the time, they are not necessary, but at times they can be very helpful. Should you spill something on your clothes, they may help you clean it up as well as possible. They may politely alert you to an open fly. If you have entered the restroom because you are not feeling well, they may keep an eye on you to make sure that things haven’t taken a turn for the worse.
    As to tipping in general, sometimes you just don’t have cash. Tip generously when you do. It averages out.

  3. What an uninformed perspective. While I’m not a fan of attendants, try serve a person and are/have been common is many parts of the world. Consider it a unique aspect of that location’s culture, and try not to criticize simply because you are less enlightened.

  4. Odd how bloggers distressed by CLT bathroom attendants are delighted to see shower attendents in lounges and on planes!

    As others have mentioned it is quite common in some settings and is a mark of a high end establishment. It will be a shame if CLT normally spotless bathrooms decline in cleanliness because of some people’s irrational bias against hospitality.

  5. Many international places have a pay to pee structure. In the US that’s normally reserved for high end venues (opera, etc). I expect it in other countries and realize it is an honest way to make a living in places where job opportunities are limited.
    In the US it is a different story. Attendants aren’t normal for public toilets. In fact, we’ve fought for years to get free public access toilets. I do not have an irrational bias against hospitality. Rather I am against pressure to pay for something that used to be free. Especially when I’m already paying for it with the airport taxes included in my ticket price.

  6. You guys raise some interesting points. I am a very generous tipper, and my tendency is definitely to over-tip. I’m not talking about all bathroom attendants everywhere–I’m talking about those at an airport, in this instance an airport in the United States, where airport bathroom attendants are very definitely not the custom. I totally get attendants at high end establishments, but an airport is not considered high-end. A lounge by definition is a club where you pay entry–that is high-end, and very different IMO from the regular bathrooms at an airport. And obviously I’m not against hospitality–I am against being prompted to tip in a location where one is not expected or warranted. Shouldn’t the Charlotte airport pay their cleaning people a living wage and not expect them to depend on the kindness of strangers?

    I must say, I am fascinated by the stories of locations around the world where bathroom attendants at airports are common. Keep those coming!

  7. 1) Bathroom attendants are a custom at CLT. Welcome to diversity of customs within the US.

    2) “A lounge by definition is a club where you pay entry–that is high-end, and very different IMO from the regular bathrooms at an airport.” Are you not aware that your plane ticket includes a fee for entry to and use of airport facilities? How is your position any different than paying for a lounge day pass, or having access to a Business lounge versus inner sanctum Flagship or First lounge?

    3) “I am against being prompted to tip in a location where one is not expected or warranted.” Can you provide links to your blogs objecting to tip jars at sandwich shops and coffee bars or tip envelopes from hotel housekeeping? What other places do find tips unexpected and unwarranted despite it being a long standing local custom? Yes, tipping is overdone in the US but that is a broader topic of changing expectations than bathroom attendants in CLT.

    4) “Shouldn’t the Charlotte airport pay their cleaning people a living wage and not expect them to depend on the kindness of strangers?” Again, questions the broader culture and legal status of tippable positions in the US. Do you avoid restaurants where servers expect tips since their employer is not paying a living wage and expects servers to depend on the kindness of strangers? What about taxi drivers, hotel bellman, airport wheelchair attendants? Do you feel awkward dealing with people in those positions?

    Finally, why do you feel comfortable tipping your shuttle driver but not a bathroom attendant?

    “The thing is, it makes me uncomfortable. Like, really uncomfortable.” Glad you are able to travel and find yourself in new situations that make you uncomfortable. It’s the one of the best ways to grow and increase your level of self-awareness.

  8. Segments misses a key point – one that led to legislation banning pay toilets in several parts of the US. The key difference is that you HAVE to use the toilet. You can’t avoid it if you disagree with the tipping policy. You can’t carry your own poo bag. That makes it very different from an establishment that expects tips to make up the differences in underpaid workers.
    And again, you are already paying for toilets via the Passenger Facility Charge on your ticket. Charlotte collects over $134 million in these taxes each year.
    For further history check out the Committee to End Pay Toilets in America. Chicago became the first city banning pay toilets. Mayor Daily stated that he “did it for women’s lib.” Men could use urinals for free, but women had to pay.
    https://psmag.com/why-don-t-we-have-pay-toilets-in-america-26efede62d6b#.xnpf3nhpn

  9. I don’t miss your point Lady Light Travel. CLT airport bathrooms are NOT pay toilets. There is no requirement / expectation to tip if you do not need the extra services from the attendant. There is no required fee to access the toilet. There is no fee per square of toilet paper as seen in many pay toilets. There is no gender bias in CLT policy as there are also attendants for the men’s bathrooms.

    Your point about having to pee as a human right for the basis of your objection does not make sense since you previously stated it is normal to have attendants in high end establishments like the opera. Do people attending the opera not need to pee? Neither attending the opera nor flying are essential services or a basic human right.

  10. @Segments – Opera, lounges, etc. are private establishments. The bathrooms at Charlotte are considered public space and therefore should be considered fee free. Especially since we’ve already paid for them via our ticket taxes. While there is no requirement per se, there is pressure to tip anytime a tip jar is out. It is wrong to impose that kind of pressure in a public space, especially when there is no opt out toilet.
    I’m glad that they put the attendants on regular wages. The toilets should stay neat because there are still attendants to clean. But now the airport is paying their wages instead of relying on others.

  11. 1. I do not necessarily agree that pressure is being imposed on users of ablution facilities, bathrooms, latrines, rest rooms, toilets, “comfort rooms” (or “CR”) as they are quaintly referred to in the Philippines, or whatever names you wish to call them, when tip jars or tip plates are laid out in full view of the users, such as next to the wash basins. (Some people seem to be hung up by semantics.)

    2. I tip restroom attendants when my heart tells me to do so, as in when I have used a stall for serious business, or when the attendant may have gone out of her/ his way to provide me with extra services, such as fishing out my wallet from the toilet (I just made that up). I also often tip airline ground staff (who are often workers of service contractors and not of the airlines) who load my luggage on conveyor belts.

    3. It seems that many of those who grew up in the Yoo Ess Hey have been (mis)led to believe that customers MUST tip for everything from hotel front door attendants “hailing” taxis (that are in taxi ranks waiting for their turn anyway), to taxi drivers, to hotel concierges, etc for basic services. It is a mindset that we need to move away from, to compel establishments to pay decent wages to their workers. Cost of services in the USA such as restaurant dining, hotel rooms, taxi fares, etc are expensive enough already. It would be a different story if, say, the taxi driver helped me carry four large suitcases weighing 32 kg (70 lb) each from/ to my hypothetical third-floor apartment that has no elevators (as many here in Nairobi, Kenya don’t).

    4. If workers in those establishments have to depend on tips to augment their incomes (or declare that “I am only waiting on tables to pay my way through law/ medical school,” then I would have immediately been turned off. I would like to be waited on by people who are in the job because they want to serve others and not mainly because of the money.

  12. As a frequent traveler and a Charlottean, I LOVED the bathroom attendants. I never felt obligated to tip them but always thanked them and was kind to them. Our bathrooms were spotless compared to other airport restrooms and that meant a lot to me. They also helped get people in and out of the stalls by letting us know when a stall was empty. It was nice to get a friendly welcome when I landed in my home city.
    Unfortunately, this service has ended and our restrooms are just like all of the others. Sad.

  13. I’m unfazed by paying to use toilets, having travelled a fair bit. That’s not to say I like it, but if the choice is to pay or to use a filthy toilet (because as pointed out, one often has little choice in the matter), I’ll pay.

    BUT that’s not to say I’m not uncomfortable with the thought that someone is listening to me do my business, will notice how long I have been in there, and might even be entertaining themselves by guessing what I’m up to (I mean, it’s likely a boring position). For a long time I could not use a restroom until all the occupants of the other cubicles had cleared out, which sometimes made for long trips to the toilet (I’m sure this is not normal, and relieved that I seem to have got over it for the most part).

    Is that what you mean by making you uncomfortable? Or is it the tipping? Because I’ve been in public toilets which have been so spotless and well maintained that I’ve wanted to be able to leave something for the cleaner, looked around and found myself unable to (mainly because, after all, this is Australia and people do actually get paid a living wage here). I’ve also been to a toilet in Germany in a motorway services that charged TWO EURO for the privilege of its use, but it had actual plastic seat covers that changed themselves automatically when the user got up, and a bunch of other automation aimed at reassuring germophobes (you did not have to touch a thing), so much so that I wanted to pay another two euro to appreciate it a second time before we left (well, almost, anyway. Two euro is quite a lot in Aussie dollars)

    So anyway, just roll with it.

  14. I agree with you. There are worse ways of spending four Euro, such as on a cup of coffee at Brussels international airport.

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