Schiphol Airport's Urinal Flies Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Schiphol Airport's Urinal Flies

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We should first make it clear that the title is not a statement. Visitors to Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, will be there intending to engage with air-bound objects, but porcelain lavatory fittings will not be among them.

For 'flies' is a plural noun, and the flies in question are pictures of those winged insects which have been etched on to the urinals in the gentlemen's restrooms. Each wall-mounted utensil has one small urine-drenched fly, jauntily perched near the drain holes.

Fly Zone

Yet, this is not a piece of art. The flies are there because they are cost-effective. After they were installed, spillage, and hence cleaning effort, reduced by 80%. Give a man a fly to aim at and he'll concentrate on the job in hand, so to speak. He will be less likely to let his mind and his sense of direction wander.

The inventor was airport maintenance man Jos van Bedoff, who got the idea when on military service in the 1960s. He noticed that one army urinal happened to have a small dot, and it was far cleaner than the others. Two decades later, he took the idea to Amsterdam Airport, which conducted trials, then successfully implemented the idea.

Oddly, van Bedoff was not the first to apply arthropods to urinal chinaware. A century before, Victorians often enjoyed a bee design at the bottom of a chamber pot. In this instance, the bee was not a target but a play on words: those educated in Latin would instantly recognise it as 'apis' pot.

Alternative Targets

Since being deployed at Schiphol, the idea has slowly spread. John F Kennedy Airport in New York uses flies, as do some public buildings across Europe. In 2004 the English pub chain Yesteryear placed stickers of spiders1 into the urinals at its 25 outlets. In some places, you might even find pictures of football goals to aim at.

Fixtures at bars close to the Scottish national rugby stadium, Murrayfield, even featured pictures of England captain Will Carling. Reports of 100% spillage reduction are probably not far off the mark.

1They believed that spiders promoted a 'cleaner message' than flies.

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