Proposed Rule Seeks to Improve Restroom Accessibility on Single-Aisle Planes

A new proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) would amend the Air Carrier Access Act to improve restroom accessibility on single-aisle airplanes.

The rule, announced by the DOT on Dec. 16, would apply to aircraft with seating capacities of 125 or more passengers.

In explaining the proposed rule, the DOT announcement said, “At present, there is no requirement that airlines provide accessible lavatories on single-aisle aircraft. The inability to use the lavatory on long flights can present significant challenges to passengers with disabilities, and poses a deterrent for some passengers with disabilities to travel by air.”

Changes would include requiring such restroom features as toilet seats, assist handles, faucets and flight attendant call buttons to be accessible. A wheelchair “meeting specific performance standards on such aircraft” would also need to be kept aboard the plane for passenger use.

Additionally, flight attendants would need to be taught how to use the on-board wheelchair, and how to use the different accessible features in the restroom.

But the rule “does not propose to increase the size of lavatories on single-aisle aircraft,” the DOT said.

The DOT will accept comments for 60 days following publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register.

While adding accessibility features to the restrooms in single-aisle aircraft might sound like a step toward inclusion, critics say the failure to also significantly enlarge those restrooms means most wheelchair users will still be unable to enter them.

In an Aug. 29, 2019, article, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), criticized the DOT’s plan to focus on accessibility features within the bathroom rather than on enlarging the bathroom itself. 

“DOT now argues that it should be enough for disabled travelers that the agency propose new ‘accessibility features within lavatories,’ the article said. “But according to DOT’s own regulations, full restroom accessibility requires a person in a wheelchair to be able to enter, maneuver inside the restroom to use the facilities, and exit. DOT's latest suggestion is meaningless if travelers with disabilities are unable to enter the restroom in order to take advantage of the accessibility features within the restroom.”

PVA and other advocacy organizations have also pointed out that the DOT is years late on a Congressional 2017 deadline to propose new accessibility rules for single-aisle aircraft.

 

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.