Airlines must make plane lavatories more accessible, says the US Department of Transportation. Coinciding with the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and authorized by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), a new ruling requires both carriers and manufacturers to change the size of airplane bathrooms, add grab rails, improve signage, and implement training. The changes apply to newly-built single aisle craft.
For those famililar with the cramped nature of airplane toilet facilities, it is not hard to imagine how difficult they must be to use for anyone in a wheelchair or requiring additional assistance when going to the bathroom.
At an ADA anniversary event earlier this month, US Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg previewed the rule changes. Buttigieg remarked: “Traveling [sic] can be stressful enough without worrying about being able to access a restroom; yet today, millions of wheelchair users are forced to choose between dehydrating themselves before boarding a plane or avoiding air travel altogether”.
We are proud to announce this rule that will make airplane bathrooms larger and more accessible, ensuring travelers [sic] in wheelchairs are afforded the same access and dignity as the rest of the traveling public.Pete Buttigieg, US Transportation Secretary
1. Which planes are affected?
Accessibilty on wider-bodied craft has been regulated for some time, but as manufacturers attempt to cram more seats into cabins, loo facilities on single-aisle planes have suffered. At the same time, the use of narrowbody aircraft for longer range journeys of up to four hours (between 2,414 and 4,828 kilometres) has skyrocketed over the last 30 years, from less than 40% of flights in 1991 to 86% in 2021.
Now new single-aisle planes will need to be equipped with at least one larger lavatory that can accommodate “a passenger with a disability and attendant, both equivalent in size to a 95th percentile male, to approach, enter, and maneuver [sic] within as necessary”.
2. How soon?
Some parts of the rules changes, such as grab bars, privacy barriers, call buttons, and a better onboard wheelchair offer, will need to be applied within three years, to planes of 125+ seats. Better crew training and accessibility signage will also need to be in place by then. However, with no requirement to update or retrofit current fleets, the other rule changes will only be seen in operation up to 10 or 12 years from now.
The Department of Transport has already set out 10 rights to be guaranteed for disabled passengers under its ‘Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights’. It has also stated it is working to legislate to allow wheelchair users to use their own wheelchairs during flights. Under Biden, the department has made billions of dollars available for accessibility improvements in airports nationwide.