Biden admin demands new, single-aisle aircraft have wheelchair accessible bathrooms

The policy will not require manufacturers or carriers to retrofit older planes.

Jarryd Jaeger Vancouver, BC

The Department of Transportation announced on Wednesday that it would be requiring all new single-aisle aircraft to be fitted with accessible lavatories in an attempt to make airline travel easier for disabled passengers. Such facilities have been mandatory on twin-aisle aircraft for decades.

The policy will not require manufacturers or carriers to retrofit older planes, though they must comply with the regulations if lavatories are renovated in the future.

According to the DOT, new single-aisle aircraft with more than 125 seats "must have grab bars, accessible faucets and controls, accessible call buttons and door locks, minimum obstruction to the passage of an on-board wheelchair (OBW), [and] toe clearance."

Under the new regulations, lavatories must be large enough to accommodate "a passenger with a disability and an attendant, both equivalent in size to a 95th percentile male, to approach, enter, and maneuver within as necessary." According to Herman Miller, a 95th percentile male is 6 feet 2 inches tall, and weighs 246 pounds.

Additionally, on current aircraft where it is not possible to bring a wheelchair into the lavatory, carriers must provide a "visual barrier for privacy" to cover the area while a passenger is being transferred from their mobility device onto the toilet.

To give manufacturers enough time to make the necessary changes, a three year grace period has been provided, with the rule impacting only aircraft delivered after that time.

The DOT justified its decision by pointing out that, "single-aisle aircraft are increasingly used by airlines for long-haul flights because the fuel efficiency and range of the aircraft have improved."

The use of such aircraft for flights between 1,500 and 3,000 miles has increased from 40 percent in 1991 to 86 percent in 2021.

"It is an unfortunate reality that today, many air travelers with disabilities, knowing that they will not be able to use the lavatory during a flight, may dehydrate themselves or even withhold bodily functions so that they do not need to urinate," the agency continued. "These actions can cause adverse health effects, including increased chances of urinary tract infections."

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