Posh public potties in airports, hotels & parks

Tampa Airport

Twenty recently renovated restrooms in the airport’s main terminal now have automated, hands-free fixtures and glass murals depicting scenery, animals and plant life native to the Sunshine State. “We’re overflowing with pride to be nominated for our restrooms,” said an airport spokesperson.

Travelers on the go know it’s sometimes difficult to find a welcoming and clean place to, uh, go.

So it’s encouraging to see the 10 posh potties, cool commodes and imaginative public washrooms that restroom supply company Cintas has flushed out as nominees in the 12th annual contest for America’s Best Restroom.

The family-friendly restrooms at Chicago’s Field Museum won top prize in 2011 and last year the 83-stall restroom at a Buc-ee’s convenience store in New Braunfels, Texas, just outside of San Antonio, was named king of the thrones.

“Guests look at the public restrooms as a clue to how the entire operation is run,” said Katie Davin, associate professor and director of hospitality education at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.

“If the bathroom is clean, that’s a good indication that the kitchen is probably clean. If the restroom is out of paper towels, maybe management isn’t really on top of things. And if a restroom has TVs in the mirrors and cool music playing, that’s a good sign the business is probably modern and hip,” she said.

Among the nominated restrooms this year are those at the Waldorf Astoria New York. The very definition of swank since the 1930s, the landmark Park Avenue hotel oozes elegance at every turn. That includes the lobby-level ladies lounge, which has an Art Deco staircase, faux fireplace with oversized marble vanity, attendants and private stalls with toilets, vanities, sinks and Salvatore Ferragamo bath amenities.

“We often see harried female midtown investment bankers in early evening entering our lobby ladies room. They emerge transformed from dark business suit to gown and fabulous shoes,” said Matt Zolbe, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “We play a small but really helpful role. Sometimes the event is not even here; still we are part of her plan. The men? I suspect they change in their offices.”

Guests have surprising recall about whether or not a hotel restroom is unkempt and in need of renovation or whether or not it’s “wow,” said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the New York University Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. “And many non-guests expect hotel restrooms to be especially clean and safe and will stop at hotels, en route, whether they’re walking or driving, to use the restrooms.”

So, like that bit of toilet paper that sometimes gets stuck to the bottom of your shoe, the condition of a restroom can linger and, said Hanson, “enhance or harm a hotel’s image beyond the experience of hotel guests.”

Voting for America’s Best Restroom continues through Oct. 31. This year’s winner will be announced later this fall.

For a slide show of the nominated restrooms, see the original version of my story 10 Posh Public Potties on CNBC.

New seats – and more – for Singapore Airlines

The longer your flight, the more importance you’ll likely place on the size and comfort of your seat and on the entertainment amenities offered to you in-flight.

That’s why Singapore Airlines held a big event today in Singapore to introduce new First, Business and Economy cabin products that will roll out first on eight Boeing 777-300ER aircraft and on other aircraft the airline will take delivery of in the future. If you’re flying on certain flights between London and Singapore (a flight that lasts about 13 hours) starting in September, you’ll get to experience these products right away. In the meantime, here’s a preview:

First Class

Singapore Air First Class

Designers from BMW helped created the airline’s new First Class seats, which are 35 inches wide, with a fixed back shell, extra storage space, a vanity area, a padded headboard, extra mattress layer and a full-flat bed that stretches up to 82 inches. First Class customers on the new B777-300ERs will also receive a gender-specific Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit that includes, among other items, a 30ml bottle of Ferragamo fragrance.

Singapore Air - first class amenit kit

Business Class

Singapore Air Business Class seat

The new Business Class seat has extra storage space, 32 degree recline, a padded headboard cushion and an improved ergonomic seat cushion that converts into a 78-inch full-flat bed. Business Class customers don’t get an amenity kit beyond eyeshades and socks, but there are plenty of useful amenities in the lavatories.

Economy Class

Singapore Air - economy seatback

Economy Class seats are getting a makeover on the new planes as well, with new backrest seat cushions with side bolsters for better back support and an ergonomically sculpted headrest cushion.

In-flight entertainment

Singapore AIR IFE

The new airplanes will arrive with upgraded an KrisWorld in-flight entertainment systems, including video touch-screen handsets and larger LCD screens in all three classes (24 inches in First Class, 18 inches in Business Class and 11.1 in Economy Class).  

Social networking is the new thing here – with a Travel Forum application that will let passengers share travel tips. And in addition to the Berlitz language-learning program and the Culture Quest program that offers tips for doing business in other countries, the airline is adding DK Travel Guides for major cities and Flight Path iXplore, which offers information about points of interest airplanes are flying over.

United offers baggage/upgraded seating subscriptions

United Airlines white chocolate

On Monday United Airlines announced subscription programs offering customers either a year-long access to seats with extra legroom in the Economy Plus section of the cabin, or a year’s worth of pre-paid checked baggage fees.

United says it is the first domestic carrier offering these services in subscription form.

Prices start at $499 for the Economy Plus subscription and $349 for the checked-bag program and go up depending on which region of the world you choose (Continental US or beyond) and how many companions you bring along.

Are the plans a good deal?

Baggage subscription fee

United Airlines passengers flying on an economy ticket within the continental US – and to Hawaii or Alaska – currently pay $25 to check their first standard bag and $35 for the second bag.

With a baggage subscription, a traveler pays a yearly fee of $349 (plus a $50 initiation fee; currently waived). Travelers may add a second checked bag to the package for a $50 yearly fee, the bags of one companion for $100 and the bags of up to eight companions on the same reservation for $300.

The subscription only covers bag fees in the continental United States, so someone flying to Hawaii or Alaska would need to add on the North America/Central America option for an addition $100. Adding additional regions will rack up additional fees.

“With this program, a traveler would need to check a standard bag on 14 one-way, continental US flights before they broke even on their investment,” said Tim Winship, publisher of “That’s 7 round-trips. And if you are traveling that often it’s going to be true for most people that they’ll earn elite status in United’s frequent flier program, which already includes bag fee waivers as one of the perks.”

Economy Plus Subscription

Travelers purchasing an economy class seat on United can upgrade to Economy Plus at the time of purchase, if those seats are available. “The prices of those seats vary,” said May, “It can start at $9 and go up to $215.”

The Economy Plus subscription package starts at $499 (the $50 initiation fee is currently waived) and includes automatic upgrades to Economy Plus seats – when available – in the continental United States only. To add Alaska and Hawaii, a traveler would need the North America/Central America upgrade, for $100. Adding a companion to the package costs $200 and adding up to eight companions on the same reservation is $400.

Finding the value tipping point on this option “is a bit of a quandary,” said Winship. “I used a figure of $40 for a domestic flight upgrade. And using that figure it turns out that it would take 13 flights before that subscription price gets covered.”

“If you’re flying that much you may want to consider elite status on another airline that gives you these seats for free,” said Brian Kelly, founder of

He can see some of United’s Premier Silver elite members buying this package because, due to a recent change in United’s frequent flier program, that group must now wait until check-in to claim their complimentary Economy Plus seat.

“Otherwise, casual travelers should probably just buy the one time passes,” said Kelly.

Overall, “I find the subscription plans puzzling,” said Winship. “Presumably the market for this is the traveler between the infrequent leisure traveler and the elite traveler. But the cynical way of looking at it would be that the targets for these subscriptions are gullible travelers who don’t really understand the value proposition here.”

(My story: United offers baggage/upgraded seating subscriptions first appeared on NBC Travel in a slightly different version.)

Get rid of your airplane seatmate


Have you ever boarded a flight, settled into your seat and wished for a row to yourself after getting a good look at, or whiff of, your seatmate?

By then, of course, it’s too late to buy an extra seat or, on today’s increasingly full flights, move to another row. Buying an extra seat ahead of time is an option, but the hefty cost usually convinces travelers to take their chances.

Now some airlines are giving passengers another, less expensive, option.

Empty Seat Option, offered on AirAsia X — the long-haul, low-fare affiliate of Malaysia’ AirAsia — allows passengers  to pay a fee and request that the seat(s) next to them remain empty.

It’s not a sure thing though.

Passengers make an empty seat request online at the Optiontown, a revenue-management site, and pay both a small sign-up fee (about $1) and an Empty Seat Price that varies by flight time and destination but can be as low as $6. If empty seats are indeed available, a passenger gets a confirmation message four to 72 hours before his or her flight. If no seats are available, the empty seat price — but not the sign-up fee — is refunded a few days after the flight departs.

“We offer them the option to purchase only what is required depending on individual needs rather than bundling the cost to our fare offerings,” Azran Osman-Rani, chief executive of AirAsia X, said in a statement. He added that so far feedback about the empty seat option — and a similar upgrade program — has been positive and that other flexible options would likely be added in the near future.

“It’s about providing passengers with choice,” said Raymond Kollau, founder of, an industry and consumer research agency. “Whereas KLM’s social seating tool allows passengers in the mood for a chat to choose their seatmate, AirAsia X gives those passengers who like to have the row to their own an option to purchase it. It’s just a matter of preference.”

A few other airlines offer a similar product. At check-in, Air New Zealand’s Twin Seat option gives passengers the chance to buy the seat next to them for a significantly reduced price. Spain’s Vueling offers a second-seat option, called Duo, as well.

“The option provides peace of mind to passengers who [don’t have to] bet on the seat shuffle that takes place after the aircraft has lifted off,” said Kollau.

Optiontown also offers an Upgrade Travel Option on 10 airlines, including AirAsia X, Aeromexico, SAS, Air India and others.

Shashank Nigam, CEO of SimpliFlying, a company specializing in airline branding and customer engagement, said it’s a positive program. “It’s a great way to up-sell distressed inventory and also give customers a sense of what the premium product is like.”

(This story first appeared on’s Travel Kit)

Best airline seat?

SingaporeAirlines Business Class_Cabin B777-300ER

Whether your flight is short or long — but especially if it’s long — where you sit on the airplane can make all the difference in how much you enjoy the trip. That’s why sites such as SeatGuru and Seatexpert, which evaluate the desirability of every seat on just about every type of commerical aircraft, are so popular, and why so many airlines keep raising the bar — and the price — for the most comfortable seats.

For Bing Travel, I put together a slide show exploring some options – from the best to the worst seats.
You can see the full slide show here, but here’s one of the more intriguing options.

Singapore Airline Double Bed

Can there be “a class beyond first class,” as Singapore Airlines claims to offer? On the airline’s new A380s there are cruise-line-like suites with sliding doors, armchair-style seats, 23-inch wall-mounted LCD screens and stationary drawers with writing supplies. Each suite also has its own full-sized flat bed with pillows and linen by Givenchy. And, in a first for commercial aviation, for couples traveling together, the sleeping areas in the middle seats can be converted to double beds.

Singapore airlines First-Class suite

I’ll be flying on one of these suite-equipped A380s next week and will have a chance to tour – but not stay in -a suite. I’ll be sure to snap some photos – and maybe ask for a piece of stationary – while I’m there.