Despite the fact that recent studies have shown the dirtiest parts of airplanes to be those foldable tables and not, in fact, the bathrooms, Boeing’s introduction of self-cleaning toilets will doubtless elicit a sigh of great relief from germaphobes everywhere. On Thursday, the plane manufacturer unveiled plans for a restroom that literally cleans up after itself, making use of a virtual ultraviolet light bath that kills 99.9 percent of germs in just three seconds. After all, when you’re on one of those long trans-Atlantic flights, you want to make sure that the facilities are just as pristine (or as close to that as possible) when you land as when you took off.
The UV lights will be “positioned throughout the lavatory to flood the touch surfaces like the toilet seat, sink, and countertops with the UV light once a person exits the lavatory. This sanitizing process even helps eliminate odors,” Jeanne Yu, Boeing’s director of environmental performance, said in a statement. Don’t worry — these aren’t the same UV lights seen in tanning beds, which may be harmful to humans. Rather, this special kind of light is activated only when the toilet is left unoccupied. “We’re trying to alleviate the anxiety we all face when using a restroom that gets a workout during a flight,” Yu added.
Not only will this alleviate some of the stress of flying (because seriously, you can’t hold it for that long, no matter how badly you may want to), but aviation consultant Robert Mann also tells Bloomberg that it’ll be a cost savings mechanism for major airlines. The bathrooms, after all, “are notoriously difficult to keep maintained to high standards, which shows up as odors that cannot be controlled and eventually, corrosion to structures adjoining the lav module,” he points out.
There’s also a “hands-free door latch and a vacuum vent system for the floor … under study, all to keep the lavatory as hygienic as possible,” Boeing says. So while flying still may not be the most enjoyable experience, at least the bathrooms are slated to get better.