DOT Invites Public Comments on Airplane Restroom Proposed Rule

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is publishing a proposed rule regarding accessible restrooms on single-aisle airplanes.

Looking down a single aisle in an airplane full of passengers. Perspective is from the back of the plane, looking forward toward cockpit.

In a March 18 announcement, DOT Sec. Pete Buttigieg said, “Far too often, travelers with disabilities don’t have the opportunity to fly to their destinations because they can’t access the lavatories on most airplanes. This rule would make airplane lavatories more accessible for passengers with disabilities, and bring us one step closer to the day when air travel is possible for everyone.”

The proposed rule would mandate at least one accessible lavatory on new, single-aisle aircraft with at least 125 passenger seats. The announcement added that the accessible restroom must be “large enough to permit a passenger with a disability (with the help of an assistant, if necessary) to approach, enter, and maneuver within the aircraft lavatory, to use all facilities in that lavatory, and to leave using the aircraft’s onboard wheelchair.”

Even if this policy were approved in the near future, there could be a lengthy waiting period. “The proposed rule would apply to new aircraft ordered 18 years after the effective date of the final rule or delivered 20 years after the effective date of the final rule,” the announcement said. “Given this long timeframe and in recognition of the affirmative responsibility of the federal government to advance equity, civil rights and equal opportunity for all individuals, the Department is seeking comment on whether these accessibility improvements could be implemented more quickly than proposed. Based on the comments it receives, the Department may adjust the implementation timeline as part of the final rule.”

Many people who use wheelchairs and are planning to fly take drastic measures, such as sharply reducing what they eat and drink beforehand, to reduce the need to use the restroom in flight. “These actions can cause many adverse health effects,” the announcement noted. “Other passengers use adult diapers or catheters, which they may find degrading and uncomfortable. Still other wheelchair users avoid flying altogether.”

Charles Brown, National President of Paralyzed Veterans of America, noted that people who use wheelchairs have been fighting for access to airplane restrooms for decades.

“Paralyzed Veterans of America has been waiting for access to lavatories on single-aisle aircraft for people with mobility disabilities since the passage of the Air Carrier Access Act nearly 36 years ago,” Brown said. “That’s 36 years of fasting, dehydrating, and developing medical issues as a result of a lack of access to inflight lavatories. We are pleased that the Department of Transportation is now moving this long overdue rule forward and see it as one step closer to equitable treatment. We cannot underscore the importance of having dignified access to lavatories for our physical health and well-being, and we must have lavatory access as soon as possible.”

DOT will accept comments on the proposed rule for 60 days after it’s published in the Federal Register. To submit comments, and to follow the proposed rule’s progress, go to https://www.regulations.gov/document/DOT-OST-2021-0137-0001.

About the Author

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

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