Air Travel

Federal government seeks to improve airline accessibility

Federal government seeks to improve airline accessibility

The US Department of Transportation is seeking feedback on a plan to improve accessibility in many airplane lavatories. (Thought)

Airlines would be required to improve accessibility for travelers with disabilities on many of their planes under a proposed new rule.

The US Department of Transportation recently proposed a rule requiring all new single-aisle aircraft with 125 or more seats to have at least one accessible lavatory. Lavatories should be large enough to allow a passenger with a disability to “approach, enter and manoeuvre” and use all facilities – with the assistance of an assistant, if necessary – and leave using the on-board wheelchair.

Currently, accessible lavatories are only mandatory on multi-aisle aircraft. But, federal officials note that the overwhelming majority of domestic flights — including those across the country — are flown on single-aisle planes. This lets people with disabilities avoid flying or resort to dehydration, use adult diapers or catheters.

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“Far too often, travelers with disabilities are denied the ability to fly to their destinations because they cannot access restrooms on most airplanes,” said US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This rule would make airplane lavatories more accessible to passengers with disabilities and bring us one step closer to the day when air travel is possible for everyone.”

Under the proposal, the requirements would apply to aircraft ordered 18 years after the rule comes into force or delivered 20 years after the effective date. The chronology is the result of a agreement 2016 between disabled people’s organisations, the Association of Flight Attendants, Airbus and the airlines. However, the Department of Transportation is seeking comment on the possibility of a more expedited timeline, and the agency said it may change the timeline for implementation in the final rule.

The proposed rule is the second in recent years to update Air Carrier Access Act regulations to address lavatory accessibility on planes. In 2020, the Department of Transport issued another proposed rule calling for accessibility improvements that did not require larger toilets. However, the agency received so much feedback at the time in favor of expanding the physical size of onboard lavatories that the agency chose to address the two rules collectively.

The Department of Transport called the latest proposal one of its “highest priority regulatory initiatives” because it would promote access and reduce discrimination.

Charles Brown, president of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, said change can’t happen soon enough.

“We are pleased that the Department of Transportation is now moving forward with this long overdue rule and sees it as another step towards fair treatment,” Brown said. “We cannot stress the importance of having dignified access to toilets for our physical health and well-being, and we must have access to toilets as soon as possible.”

the proposed rule will be available for public comment until May 27.