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The federal government is out with new regulations to make it easier for passengers with disabilities to use lavatories on commercial flights.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced new rulemaking that will require airlines to outfit smaller aircraft with accessible bathrooms.
Announced on the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, this new rulemaking will apply to new single-aisle aircraft with 125 or more passengers.
Some of the more immediate changes will require adding accessible features to the lavatories themselves. Within 10 years, airlines have to offer restrooms large enough for a passenger with a disability and an attendant to enter and maneuver.
“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,” Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said in a statement announcing the new regulations.
However, it could be years before travelers notice changes.
Why are airlines facing new regulations for lavatories?
This new rulemaking is technically an amendment to the Air Carrier Access Act, which Congress originally passed in the 1980s. It prohibits discrimination against commercial air passengers with disabilities.
There are several provisions to the new regulations, but the most significant aspect involves the size of the lavatories on smaller commercial aircraft.
Today, airlines are required to provide accessible bathrooms on planes with two aisles — think those larger aircraft you often fly on longer international flights like a Boeing 777 or 787 Dreamliner (among many others).
But airlines have faced no such rule regarding planes with just a single aisle, which make up a large portion of domestic flights.
“Today, millions of wheelchair users are forced to choose between dehydrating themselves before boarding a plane or avoiding air travel altogether,” Buttigieg said in a statement.
In testimony to Congress earlier this year, Lee Page, senior associate director of advocacy at the nonprofit Paralyzed Veterans of America, described the landscape for many travelers — particularly those who use mobility devices.
“The current air travel experience for passengers with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users, is at best, frustrating, and sometimes worse, unsafe,” Page testified to the House Aviation Subcommittee in March.
» Learn more: How to find wheelchair-accessible vacation rentals
When will passengers see bigger airplane bathrooms?
These changes won’t take effect overnight. In fact, it will be some time before passengers notice the changes.
Airlines must include such lavatories on new planes ordered 10 years from now (by 2033) or delivered 12 years from now (by 2035).
In the meantime, though, the Biden administration is requiring airlines to take some additional steps passengers will notice sooner.
In 2026, airlines will be required to outfit new single-aisle planes’ lavatories with accessible features like grab bars, accessible faucets and controls, as well as accessible call buttons and door locks.
The DOT is also planning additional rules requiring further training for employees who physically assist passengers with disabilities, the agency said.
In a statement commending the DOT’s action, Paralyzed Veterans of America called the regulations “nothing short of groundbreaking.”
Airlines for America, a trade group for the largest U.S. carriers, said in an email statement that airlines “fully support” the DOT’s action on accessible lavatories and pledged to continue working with the government to implement accessible solutions.
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