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BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport wins national contest for best restroom

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

If you are one of the tens of millions of Americans traveling for the holidays this year, you'll be spending plenty of time at airports. Now, one in particular is receiving some high honors. The restrooms at Baltimore/Washington International Airport were just declared the best in the business this year. WYPR's Scott Maucione took a trip to the loos to see exactly what makes them so special for the 24 million people who go through that airport each year.

SCOTT MAUCIONE, BYLINE: BWI's bathrooms on concourse B are brightly lit with natural light. They have lights above the stalls that tell you which are occupied, and the stall doors reach all the way to the floor.

PAUL SHANK: We also put in sensors for our custodial staff that would actually tell them where we're running low on soap.

MAUCIONE: Paul Shank, BWI's chief engineer, says the toilet paper rolls have high-tech sensors, too, and he's probably spent more time thinking about bathrooms in the last couple of years than many of us will in our lives. Shank and his team conducted surveys, talked to custodial staff, studied innovative restroom designs and even thought through the best cleaning processes for BWI's $55 million bathroom overhaul.

SHANK: 'Cause our two national surveys said restrooms are the most important thing to passengers, which blows my mind. And another survey said it was the second most important, so restrooms are both the No. 1 and No. 2 most important thing for our traveling public.

MAUCIONE: Paul's down with the potty humor, if you can't tell, and all that thought that he put into how we do our business - well, it won BWI the Cintas Award for America's Best Bathroom of 2023. That's a contest that's been going strong since 2002. Ten finalists are nominated for the best bathroom each year, and then voting's open to the general public, where hundreds of thousands of people chime in. Shank says what makes BWI's bathrooms so special is more than just technology. There's also ambience. In BWI's lavatory, there's no noisy hair dryers, just the satisfying...

(SOUNDBITE OF PAPER TOWEL TEARING)

MAUCIONE: ...Crisp pull of a paper towel.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAPER TOWEL TEARING)

MAUCIONE: Then, of course, there's cleanliness.

SHANK: What we went with was all glass. It's an impervious surface. It's easy to disinfect. It's easy to clean, and it looks ultramodern. It's bright. It's shiny.

MAUCIONE: Shank and his team took convenience into account, too, considering people are juggling luggage and sometimes kids. Annette Parks and her husband are traveling with their two children.

ANNETTE PARKS: When you have toddlers, you have to, like, both fit into one stall.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And opening the door to get out - usually, you're both squeezing up the side of it against the stall or bumping into the toilet as you open the door.

MAUCIONE: But they found BWI's bathrooms to be a completely different experience.

PARKS: At the changing station - hand sanitizer, a sink right there and a trash can, literally, right there.

MAUCIONE: Parks wasn't the only one impressed. Griedy Lara-Monterroso is a student who frequently travels from Baltimore to Illinois.

GRIEDY LARA-MONTERROSO: I guess it's more of, like, the lighting and the privacy you get. It's, like, really clean...

MAUCIONE: Yeah.

LARA-MONTERROSO: ...Immediately as soon as you walk in, which is hard to say about a lot of airport bathrooms.

MAUCIONE: So next time you're in BWI and looking for a quick pit stop or maybe even a little ambience, don't skip the loo.

For NPR News, I'm Scott Maucione in Baltimore.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Maucione