It's an unfortunate fact that for many people their first experience of a foreign land is an airport toilet. And it's not always a pleasant one.

You know what I mean. By the end of a flight the toilets in the plane are often just a little ... squiffy. So you save yourself for a toilet on the ground. And sometimes you wish you hadn't.

In airports like Singapore and Hong Kong the toilets usually look as though they were cleaned five minutes before. But at other airports - Sydney, Kota Kinabalu, Paris and Heathrow are examples that spring to mind - you could get the impression that the cleaners had taken the week off.

The result can rather undermine the jolly signs proclaiming "Welcome to ..."


Happily, our own main entrance, Auckland International Airport, rates pretty well in my experience. And the airport's toilet cleaning system has just been given star billing by New York Times Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Thomas L Friedman.

Friedman has just told his millions of readers: "I've learned three things visiting New Zealand and Australia: There is a place in the world where rugby is front-page news. There is a place in the world - the Auckland airport - where the restrooms have digital clocks in the entryway telling you hourly when they were last cleaned and when they will be cleaned again. And there is a place in the world where moderate Republicans still exist. Unfortunately, you have to take a 13-hour flight from Los Angeles to get there."

Such is Friedman's pulling power that you'd have to expect that hordes of eager Americans will soon be heading this way to check out the toilet clocks.

And the good news is they'll find the airport company is well aware that - in the words of corporate relations manager Richard Llewellyn - "the bathroom experience, while seldom spoken about publicly, is a very important aspect of the passenger experience".

Last year the company used a mobile phone text feedback system to get customer views on airport bathrooms and got 9066 responses which helped guide decision-making.

"For example," Llewellyn said, "during the survey period one set of toilets (in the international terminal) was given a facelift refurbishment and went from being one of the four 'worst' toilets to one of the 'best'."

Altogether it's easy to see why Friedman was impressed. When I recall the toilet facilities I've experienced at airports in Los Angeles and New York I think his readers might find it well worth the 13-hour flight just to have an Auckland bathroom experience.