Message claims that an attached image depicting a picture of a fly etched into the porcelain of a urinal at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport shows a technique implemented to improve the aim of men visiting the facilities there.
The information in the message is true and the image is genuine. The fly in the urinal technique has indeed been used at Schiphol Airport and other locations. The idea has been around for a number of years.
Subject: Fly in the Toilet
When my friends hubby went to the men’s room in the Schiphol Airport located in Amsterdam, he saw a fly and did his best to ‘wash’ it down the drain….but failed. He figured the fly had super glue foot pads !!!
Now he knows why it was there!
Who says you can’t potty train a man?
The image caption reads:
In Amsterdam, the tile under Schiphol’s urinals would pass inspection in an operating room. But nobody notices. What everybody does notice is that each urinal has a fly in it. Look harder, and the fly turns into the black outline of a fly, etched into the porcelain. It improves the aim. If a man sees a fly, he aims at it. Fly-in-urinal research found that etchings reduce spillage by 80%. It gives a guy something to think about. That’s the perfect example of process control.
According to a message that has circulated in various forms for several years, an image that comes with the message depicts a urinal with a fly etched into the porcelain of the bowl.
The message claims that the fly etching was placed in such a strategic position as a means of improving the aim of the urinal’s users, thereby significantly reducing spillage and keeping the facility cleaner. The idea is that men using the urinal will almost instinctively aim at the fly with the intent of washing it down the drain and, as a result, spillage caused by poor aim and inattention will be curtailed. The message notes that the picture of the urinal fly was taken at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
The information in the message is true. Images of flies are indeed included on urinals at Schiphol Airport and have also been reported at various other locations including, Munich airport in Germany, Changi Airport in Singapore, and JFK Airport in New York City. Many other photographs of the Schiphol Airport urinal flies are also available online.
Toilet fly stickers are also for sale via various websites for use at home or in public toilets. One such site, “Toilet Marksman” notes in its fly sticker description:
Our fly sticker in the urinal has been sold worldwide to thousands of homes, offices, bars, restaurants, schools and more. The reason our urinal fly is proving to be so popular is because it works! We receive lots of kind emails thanking us for our urinal fly and how it has really helped clean up a bathroom.
A May 2003 article discussing urinal aiming issues published on The Straight Dope website notes:
Give men something higher to shoot for. Now we’re talking. Gary tells me that management at the international terminal of New York’s Kennedy airport specified that the image of a black fly be printed on the porcelain at the center of the back wall of every urinal. When given a target, it seems, men instinctively aim at it. The fly was originally introduced at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, where it supposedly reduced spillage by 80 percent.
And in the 2003 book, The Human Factor which provides an interesting look at the widening gap between people and technology, author Kim J. Vicente explains:
Years later, I learned of a creative design that took the idea of a user-friendly urinal one step further. If you go to the men’s washrooms at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, you may notice that there’s a fly in the urinals. So what do you think most men do? That’s right, they aim at the fly when they urinate. They don’t even think about it, and they don’t need to read a user’s manual; it’s just an instinctive reaction. The interesting feature of these urinals is that they’re deliberately designed to take advantage of this inherent human male tendency.
The fly isn’t really a fly. It’s a drawing of a fly, permanently etched onto the porcelain. And the etching isn’t placed in just any old location on the urinal. On the contrary, it’s been strategically etched into the “sweet spot” of the urinal, the point of curvature that minimizes splash back. (‘The Human Factor’, 2003, Kim J. Vicente, Routledge, pp 85, 86)
Some reports indicate that the fly-in-the-urinal idea was conceived by Dutch maintenance man Jos Van Bedoff. During his time as a soldier, Van Bedoff reportedly noticed that the placement of small red dots in barracks urinals seemed to cut “misdirected flow” significantly. Decades later, Van Bedoff suggested the idea to the airport board of directors – using fly images rather than red dots.
Interestingly, some 19th-century British chamber pots and urinals also featured insects, mostly bees, etched into their surfaces. However, it is unclear if the purpose of these bee images was actually intended to improve aim. It may have been just decoration or even intended as something of a humorous play on words.
Some commentators have noted that the Latin for “bee” is “apis”, hence a chamber bot with a bee picture might be considered “apis pot”. (Many educated Victorians were likely to be familiar with Latin words and phrases).
Of course, without access to concrete data, which I’d suggest is probably a little hard to come by, it’s hard to ascertain for sure if the “fly in the urinal” technique does really reduce mess by 80%.
But, from a male perspective, I’d suggest that the idea really is likely to work as described more often than not.