Airline passengers sue over first class loo

By David Flynn, August 14 2014
Airline passengers sue over first class loo

Two US travellers are taking legal action against Alaska Airlines over use of a domestic first class toilet, claiming US$11,498 (A$12,375) in damages ranging from medical to emotional.

The young couple flew from Las Vegas to Portland in February this year in Alaska Airlines' first class (aka Australian business class) cabin when one of the two, according to the couple’s attorney, needed to use the restroom.

However, she was unable to do so because "passengers from (economy) kept walking up to use the first-class restroom", reports Oregon Live, making her "more uncomfortable by the minute as she waited for an opportunity to use the toilet."

According to Oregon Live, the female passenger asked a flight attendant if she would make an announcement stating that passengers were only to use the restrooms in their assigned cabins.

The flight attendant not only refusesed to do so but "got real snippy,” claims the attorney, and when the passenger eventually made it into the restroom, "the flight attendant slammed the door shut", injuring the passenger's shoulder.

Then – and again, this is the attorney for the couple telling their side of their story – it was time to add insult to injury.

The flight attendant later claimed the couple "had created an in-flight disturbance by verbally assaulting her", and when the plane arrived at Portland, "passengers were told to remain seated while Port of Portland police boarded and escorted (the couple" off."

“It was embarrassing for them,” attorney Thomas Patton said, although after 30 minutes of questioning they were released because police found no criminal wrongdoing.

So, that US$11,498?

The female passenger claims she suffered "a rotator cuff injury and impingement syndrome" requiring two months of physical therapy, for which she is seeking US$1,498 in medical expenses and US$7,000 in "non-economic damages for pain, suffering and inconvenience."

The couple are also asking for US$1,500 each "for humiliation from being taken into custody."

Alaska Airlines has declined to comment on the story, although it reportedly offered offered to settle the case by paying the US$1,498 in medical expenses – an offer which the travellers rejected in favour of filing a lawsuit for closer to ten times that amount.

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Air Canada - Aeroplan

07 Apr 2014

Total posts 6

What a joke. 

QF Platinum

24 Jan 2013

Total posts 138

They shouldn't allow coach passengers to use the first class lav unless in exceptional circumstances (eg. Elderly, medical conditions, etc).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1247


therealqueen Banned
therealqueen Banned

19 May 2014

Total posts 40

Keep those economic rodents out of the first/business toilets.

even those company funded platys shouldnt be allowed in those toilets unless flying premium. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

14 Aug 2014

Total posts 1

Only in the USA


23 Jan 2013

Total posts 175

On my recent Eithad flight, business passengers kept coming forward to use the First class bathroom. It was annoying having them continuously passing back and forth through the cabin - even with the suite doors closed. 

When I fly business I never dream of using the First bathrooms. If I fly economy I stay where I have paid to be as well. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Feb 2014

Total posts 445

Hope they lose the case.

What was stopping that cow from standing outside the loo so that other passengers would have to wait behind her? Her arse was so big she had to remain seated?

22 Jul 2014

Total posts 8

you do have to know F/J pax do not like to queeue to start with, especailly in asmall cramp cabin and standing in a line.

I would if I was bursting to use the loo. No point being so precious if you're about to wet your pants.

QF Platinum

24 Jan 2013

Total posts 138

Curious about what people think about first/biz pax using the economy toilets? There's a hilarious scene in one of the HBO episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" where Larry David (co creator of Seinfeld) is scolded by coach pax when he leaves first class and tries to use the coach loo.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

10 Jan 2012

Total posts 260

By AS offering a settlement of paying medical expenses, they have accepted liability for the incident. The customers will win the suit, but perhaps not be rewarded the amount that they are seeking.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Jan 2013

Total posts 241

This seems like over kill. I get that first class passangers have shelled out an eye-watering amount of money for their fare and so should get that special treatment.

However, if it's a case of elderly or medical reasons or it's just duper urgent, why not share. It's just a loo afterall.

undertheradar Banned
undertheradar Banned

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 654

Sounds like a job for.... 'Judge Judy' .. God Bless America, the land of litigation.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2012

Total posts 39

I have travelled with Alaskan Airlines in their First class a few times and must say they were very good for a 737. but like this poor lass i did find that they allowed eco passengers to come up to first but they would stop them if a first passenger was need the loo and allow the first to "jump the line". on their 737 there is only 1 loo in the front for first and 2 down the back for eco. but thems the breaks. not sure i was going to sue over the issue though.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Jun 2013

Total posts 366

When I book a business or first class ticket on an airline I do not expect to share facilities or services with others who have not paid for that privilege in the same way if I  hire a Mercedes car I do not expect to share it with others who have rented a Toyota or share a taxi that I have hired with others with out my consent being given.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 Mar 2013

Total posts 13

First world problems. If this is the worst that can happen then life must be very charmed. Any toilet other than my own home is 'public' and I avoid unless really needed. I can tell you that First/Business class pax still stink the place up just like those 'great unwashed' economy underlings that a few of you seem to despise on here. It's still just a public crapper anyways. If it was anything like VA Business 737 it was no different to the economy toilet anyways. I maybe understand on a longhaul where you pay big bucks, but a few hrs on a 737?? Really?? 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 699

I would be inclined not to rush to any judgment, given this is a report of a report, and as such will only contain some of the facts (deemed interesting enough for reporting), but certainly not all.
For all we know, the woman in question could have a urological/medical condition as to why not getting timely access to the J toliet was an issue. People with such problems are generally embarrassed by them, and may not wish to advertise them.
Clearly there is something to the story, otherwise the airline wouldn't  be offering compensation of medical expenses (which exceeds $1K). If it had no merit, you'd suspect the best they'd get offered was an apology form letter - if that.
The debate over the 'fairness' of Premium class only bathrooms, and access to, is perhaps something to debate without casting stones (on such little information). It may well be they are try-ons, but it could easily go the other way, if further information follows.
Personally, I think premium cabin only toliets (or women only, or any other special reservation type toliet access policy) is fine as long as such policy is easy to identify for booking passengers. If people are offended by divides, they can book elsewhere, and similarly if people object to sharing bathrooms across all cabins they can book elsewhere too.
I don't know if Alaska Airlines market their domestic first class as having its own toliet, but just don't enforce the policy (inferred in marketing) on board, or offer no such implied or explicit marketing references at all (in which case, pax can hardly argue they are not receiving what they paid for - their expectations clearly exceeded any offers made for service), but if they did market the domestic F service as having its own toilet for F customers then it may well be in the wrong.
In my opinion, if toilets are marketed as cabin exclusive, then pax should stick to them (no going forward OR rearward into another cabin class space) unless it is a (true) medical need or necessary due to crisis (ie. overflowed/malfunctioning toilets meaning no toilets working in that class).

Timely access to the First class toilet can be rectified if said passenger waited in line. Did she expect all other first class passenger to evacuate the toilets at her request on the basis of her urological condition? 

The issue of "having to wait" for coach passengers to get out first cuts to the heart of the 1st world problem snide remarks. Get a grip. You're flying first class... You're not that special. 

Maybe in the event of the plane ditching a First class passenger should expect only other first class passenger in their life raft? I hear the violins on the Titanic playing....

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 699

TheRealBabushka If I don't even know if she was mobility impaired or not, I don't know how you can just assume she wasn't and it was reasonable for her to stand in line.

It was my point, that it's easy to be made a fool making comments about a situation on which only a little is known. As is often said "Fools rush in... Only to later remove their foot from their mouth!"

As to the issue on bathroom access, on which I clearly made my point but which it seems you did not bother to read, what you or I think should be case is irrelevant, it's what the airline says it is offering.

If the airline markets their premium cabins as having cabin exclusive toliets, then it should follow through with that (except in reasonable circumstances, examples of which I outlined in my post). If it doesn't market such a feature/policy, then people shouldn't expect such features.

You can't expect businesses to offer you something, just because you think it should, and businesses should honour any commitments/marketing it makes to buy their products and services - it really isn't rocket science.

I am suggesting it is distasteful to sue that First class toilets are being used by Economy class pax even if the rules are clear that First class toilets are only for First class passengers. The very fact that it is a toilet makes it's different from any other premium class amenity. This type of segregation borders on the issue of toilets for black people and toilets for white people in segregated America of the past.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 699

But she is not suing on the grounds the forward toliet was used by someone that was from Economy/Coach - the lawsuit is not brought on commercial misrepresentation, it's a negligence claim for injury and economic and non-economic damage, arising from the alleged slamming of the toliet door on the customer by the F/A onboard. This is clearly stated in the article above, as evidenced by the compensation sort.

The court isn't being asked to rule on whether the airline's toliet access policy is right or wrong!

TheRealBabushka - are you really trying to equate or even suggest that apartheid or racism is the same as people in economy being refused access to toliets in First or Business class?!?  Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela would be turning in their graves...


Yes I note the basis of the negligence claim is due to the slamming of the door. I am not suggesting that the FA was somehow right in slamming the door. Nor am doubting that the claimant was genuinely physically hurt.

I am however suggesting that a large part of this negligence claim has got to do with hurt pride and ego. This stemming from the believe that the claimant as a First Class passenger ought to be treated as such and not have coach passenger using the First Class toilet. That is the bit that a lot of people are mocking and making snide comments about.

Further, the whole episode may take on a special meaning in America becuase of the association of segregated toilets from America's history. To neglect the possiblity of emotional ressonance on this subject is to be naive at best.

I admit however that I may have been innacurate when suggesting it was "...distasteful to sue that First class toilets are being used by Economy class pax". You are correct in my tardiness on that count.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 699

On that particular aspect we can agree - if the airline never represented that the forward toliet was only for F pax, it is the pax that was in the wrong (although that doesn't excuse the assault, if that happened as alleged).

Using the Rosa Parks example - African-American and white people using the bus paid the same price, but were discrimated against solely on race. Same in the lunch counter protests, and the state funded schools segregations (African-American and white were taxed using the same methodology, but African-Americans received little back in benefits). Discrimination by price paid may be a tenuous form of indirect discrimination, depending on the individual circumstances (prolonged injustice, creating reduction in opportunities), but so is treating everyone the same regardless of their efforts, achievements, talents, capabilities, etc.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Jul 2014

Total posts 22

Putting aside any arguments about litigation on this matter, there is a fundamental principle here of which Qantas needs to take note.  Having regularly flown for over 20 years in J Class on QF 737s (and domestic F when it used to be available in the last century), I get annoyed at the constant stream of Y pax who use the forward toilet.  Only once have I ever seen a CSM send Y pax to the rear toilets.  It's no better on the A380 in F Class with the regular stream of J Class coming down from upstairs to use the two toilets.  I pay a lot of money for international F and domestic J travel on Qantas for which I don't expect to have to queue for the loo.

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 737

Much as we all like to complain about silly lawsuits, if you strip away the misrepresentation this isn't actually about other people using the first-class lav at all, it's about a woman allegedly getting an injured shoulder by an FA slamming the door on her. 

If that actually happened then she's right in at least claiming her medical bills.

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