Lavatories on some large jets rival those in high-end homes.

Where's the Lav?

Lavatories on corporate and privately owned airplanes run the gamut from none at all to luxuriously appointed throne rooms fit for royalty. If you take nothing else away from this little essay, please remember: When flying on an unfamiliar airplane, you need to ask ahead of time what facilities, if any, will be available. Then plan your meal and drink schedule accordingly. While "pulling over at the next filling station" is not impossible from 41,000 feet, it does require much more time and effort than it does on the freeway. An extra descent, landing and takeoff could consume the better part of an hour and add considerable expense.

Depending on where charter passengers are flying, moreover, they might arrive at the airport to learn they've booked something a little smaller than they envisioned. Especially if you're making, for example, a fishing trip to the wilderness, the last leg of your journey could find you in a single-engine propeller airplane with a cabin more like a Buick's than a Boeing's. When you get the urge in one of these, you'd better not be easily embarrassed. You're probably going to be handed a bottle, perhaps one of those red plastic "Little Johns" that are custom-made for the purpose. (They even come with a "Lady Jane" adapter for female use, but in my 30 years of flying, I've never heard of any woman using one.)

When charter operators assure you that a bathroom is on board, ask for specifics. Some light airplanes have chemical johns that really aren't much more than glorified bedpans. There are even aircraft in which the toilet- albeit with an attractive, upholstered cover-is a legal passenger seat complete with a safety belt. If you're traveling on one of these airplanes with a group of merciless friends or colleagues, be sure you're not the last one to show up for the flight.

The lavatories on some small business jets are marvels of efficient use of space, comfort and good taste. Not only are the necessary facilities up to the task at hand, but there is often a compact sink that serves admirably for freshening up. On the midsize and larger jets, the lavs can be quite spacious and comfortable.

Nevertheless, don't expect a shower on anything but the largest of private jets. The weight of the required equipment and water supply (even with systems that purify and reuse the shower water), the complications that result from steaming up the controlled environment and the cost are among the reasons why showers are not commonplace. And while you can find showers installed on many widebody business jets, they're not a given. (It's worth mentioning, though, that many private passenger terminals have elegant shower facilities where you can freshen up after a long flight.)

Even without a shower, however, lavatories on many business jets represent a big improvement over what you find on airliners. And while the lav may not be on the top of the list of factors most jet buyers consider when shopping for an aircraft, it is always a consideration. In fact, more than one airplane salesman has told me that when the choice among two or three models is difficult, it is often the size, location, fixtures and amenities of the lavatories that become the tie-breaker.

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