The US is requiring more planes to have accessible restrooms, but change will take years
July 27, 2023 By David Koenig, The Associated Press
Some new planes eventually will be required to have lavatories big enough to be accessible to wheelchair users, a change that disability advocates have sought for many years.
The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a long-awaited final rule on the subject Wednesday.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the new rule will give travelers in wheelchairs “the same access and dignity as the rest of the traveling public.”
The rule will only apply to new single-aisle planes with at least 125 seats, such as the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320. The restriction means that smaller regional jets used on hundreds of flights a day for the major airlines won’t be covered.
Also, airlines won’t be required to retrofit current planes, so the number of planes with larger lavatories will grow slowly over time. The requirement for at least one accessible lavatory will apply to planes ordered 10 years or delivered 12 years after the rule takes effect this fall, except for future models of planes, which will have to comply within one year.
Two-aisle planes — more commonly used on international flights — have long been required to have accessible lavatories.
Despite the limitations, advocates for people with disabilities praised the new rule, which largely follows 2016 recommendations from a Transportation Department-backed committee that included representatives of airlines and aircraft maker Boeing.
In a recent survey by disability groups, more than half of the respondents said the lack of restroom access was reason to avoid flying. Others avoid drinking liquids before flights.
Charles Brown, a past president of Paralyzed Veterans of America, said he booked layovers instead of nonstop flights when he traveled recently from his home in Miami to Portland, Oregon, so that he could use airport bathrooms during the cross-country round trip.
The new rule, he said, “will make flying a lot more palatable. It makes the real world more accessible to those with disabilities.”
Brown said accessible lavatories on planes have long been a top priority for his group, and he was willing to overlook limitations in the new rule.
“This is a huge win,” he said. “We have stepped out of 1986.”
In issuing the rule, the Transportation Department cited its authority under a 1986 law, the Air Carrier Access Act.
Airlines for America, which represents the largest U.S. carriers, pledged to work with government and others to improve accessibility on planes.
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