The US Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a final rule under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) on Wednesday that would make airplane bathrooms more accessible to disabled travelers.
The new regulation will require new single-aisle aircraft bathrooms with a minimum of 125 seats to have larger, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms with accessibility features such as handles and accessible faucets, controls, call buttons and door locks.
“We are proud to announce this rule that will make airplane bathrooms larger and more accessible and ensure that travelers in wheelchairs have the same access and dignity as the rest of the traveling public,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a press release . announcement on Wednesday.
Accessible bathrooms have been provided on the plane with two times for decades, according to New York Times. But there has been no requirement that accessible bathrooms be provided on single-aisle aircraft, which are commonly used for longer flights.
Most single-aisle airplane bathrooms are too small to accommodate wheelchairs or onboard companions and lack the accessibility features necessary to support passengers with physical, visual and other disabilities, DOT wrote in the final rule, adding that airlines have a tend to forgo accessible bathrooms in favor. of additional rows of seats.
As a result of this barrier, many disabled people choose not to fly unless absolutely necessary, according to one examination carried out by disability groups.
“It is an unfortunate reality that many disabled air travelers today who know they will not be able to use the restroom during a flight may dehydrate themselves or even withhold bodily functions so that they do not need to urinate. These actions can cause adverse health effects, including increased chances of urinary tract infections,” DOT wrote in the final rule.
The rule came on the 33rd anniversary of the landmark passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and a year after the Department of Transportation published the first declaration of rights for disabled air travelers. Disabled people have come forward about problems they face when travelling, such as the alarming number of wheelchairs abused and damaged by airlines.
Efforts to address airline travel accessibility
The Department of Transportation’s rule is a culmination of years of efforts to address airline unavailability issues.
That Air Carrier Access Actenacted in 1986 and amended in 2000, prohibits US air carriers and foreign air carriers from discriminating against persons with disabilities.
In 2016, the department created the Accessible Air Transportation Advisory Committee, which was made up of disability activists, airline manufacturers, airlines and flight attendants to develop regulations on accessibility issues to ensure non-discriminatory services are provided to people with disabilities.
That year, the committee developed recommendations for new bills to improve access to single-aisle bathrooms on airplanes. In 2020, DOT issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for short-term improvements involving bathroom interior changes, additional training and information procedures related to bathroom access, and improvements to the aircraft’s on-board wheelchairs.
Last year, DOT issued an NPRM for long-term improvements requiring airlines to install larger bathrooms on certain single-aisle aircraft that would accommodate on-board wheelchair transportation of a disabled passenger to and from the restroom, with or without assistance.
Its final rule on Wednesday combines and addresses the issues presented in both the long-term and short-term NPRMs from recent years. The rule is one of several other efforts put forth by the DOT to make travel easier and more accessible for disabled passengers, including a two-part infrastructure law which will modernize the airport terminals.
These bathroom accessibility feature provisions are expected to be added to new aircraft delivered within three years of the rule taking effect. The bathroom size expansion is expected to take effect for new aircraft ordered in 10 years or delivered in 12 years — a timeline still faster than the original one laid out in 2016.
“(Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg) moved the ball forward on access to air travel for years,” Vincenzo Piscopo, president and CEO of the United Spinal Association, said in a announcement. “While we still have work to do, this is fantastic progress.”