New rule could mean bigger bathrooms on some airplanes

Dec 17, 2019

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The U.S. Department of Transportation is taking steps to make single-aisle planes more accessible for disabled travelers. It announced on Monday that it is seeking public comment on a proposal to improve handicap access to lavatories on single-aisle aircraft.

Narrowbody planes had not previously been required to have handicap-accessible bathrooms because they were originally designed for short-haul flying. But, as technology improved and airlines increasingly used single-aisle aircraft on longer routes, the lack of accessible facilities has become a more acute issue for some travelers.

“The inability to use the lavatory on long flights can present significant challenges to passengers with disabilities, and poses a deterrent for some passengers with disabilities to traveling by air,” the department said.

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The proposed rule will cover new aircraft with 125 seats or more, and the current draft calls for onboard lavatories to be equipped with accessibility features such as assist handles and fixtures that are in easy reach for disabled customers. It would also require planes covered by the regulation to have a wheelchair onboard that could fit into the accessible lavatory.

In recent years, airlines have gained attention for installing “space-saving” lavatories in order to install extra seats. The new bathrooms have a reputation for being especially tight, so the new DOT rule could offer a reprieve for all travelers.

American Airlines Airbus A321neo rear lavatory. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.)

The department said that in the future, the rule might have the result that, “the size of lavatories on certain single-aisle aircraft would be expanded to a size equivalent to those found on twin-aisle aircraft,” but it would not affect planes already in service.

The DOT is also planning to solicit information from airlines and other stakeholders on the costs and benefits of installing larger bathrooms on single-aisle planes.

Featured photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy.

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