Rule finalized for wheelchair-accessible airplane bathroom

The Transportation Department has finalized a regulation that will require airlines to equip commercial aircraft (125 seats or more) with at least one lavatory big enough for a wheelchaired passenger to move around freely. 

Lavatories will also have to be big enough to accommodate a personal assistant to the disabled passenger.  

The requirement will go into effect for aircraft that are ordered at least 10 years from now or delivered at least 12 years from now. For new aircraft types that aren’t yet certified it will take effect in a year. 

“We are proud to announce this rule that will make airplane bathrooms larger and more accessible, ensuring travelers in wheelchairs are afforded the same access and dignity as the rest of the traveling public,” DOT secretary Pete Buttigieg said earlier this month, when he previewed the rule alongside Vice President Kamala Harris. 

The new regulation has long been in the making, with the DOT first publishing a notice of intent to explore its feasibility in 2015.  

The rule has been adjusted since the DOT last put it forward as a proposal in March 2022. At that time, airlines would have had a compliance grace period of 18 years for aircraft orders and 20 years for aircraft deliveries. 

Under the final rule, airlines must make the lavatory large enough to accommodate a passenger with disabilities in a wheelchair and an assistant, both of whom are in the 95th percentile of size for an American male. 

The rule has other accessibility requirements. The lavatories will be required to have assist handles. Call buttons and door locks will be required to be accessible from a seated position. And lavatory controls and dispensers, including faucet temperature controls will have to be discernible via touch. Those regulations will take effect for aircraft deliveries or for lavatory replacement beginning in three years.

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