Unusable sinks on Boeing planes

Usability isn’t just about web pages, as you’ll know if you’ve tried to dial a phone number on someone else’s cell phone. Or if you’ve tried to wash your hands on most Boeing airplanes built in the past 30 years:

Taps with awkward levers

The water only flows while you press the lever—one lever for cold water and one lever for warm water. It takes one hand continuously pressing to make the water flow. Rinsing one hand without the help of the other hand is difficult. Rinsing soap off is much easier when two hands do it together.

Some of the newer Boeing aircraft—like the 787 Dreamliner—may have better taps, but I’ve never been on one. An aircraft lasts decades, so passengers will be using those old sinks and taps for years to come, on Boeing planes. Airbus planes, on the other hand, have had ergonomic taps for years: one press starts the water flow, leaving both hands free for soaping and rinsing. After a fixed duration, the water stops flowing, but you can always press again to restart the water.

While I’m pointing out usability problems in the airline industry, Airbus doesn’t have clean hands. On the Airbus web site,  type a word in the Search box—the word bathroom, for example—and then press ENTER. Nothing happens. The ENTER key doesn’t start the search, but a mouse click does.

Click OK to start searching

It’s ironic. A design that requires me to move a hand from the keyboard to the mouse is a lot like design that requires me to move a hand from the sink basin to the lever.