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New single-aisle airplanes would be required to have a restroom big enough for a passenger in a wheelchair, under a proposed rule from the Transportation Department.
The rule, released Friday, would require that at least one lavatory on these narrower planes with 125 or more passenger seats be accessible to a passenger with a disability. Its release follows years of lobbying by advocates for people with disabilities.
Air carriers have largely chosen not to install wheelchair-accessible lavatories in their single-aisle jetliners, the Government Accountability Office reported in 2020.
Airlines and manufacturers found that a larger lavatory could require the loss of a row of seats, an estimated $33.3 billion industry-wide revenue loss over 25 years, according to the rule’s initial assumptions.
Many U.S. airlines fly single-aisle planes, including Southwest Airlines Co., United Airlines Holding Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., and American Airlines Group Inc. Manufacturers include Airbus SE and Boeing Co.
“Far too often, travelers with disabilities don’t have the opportunity to fly to their destinations because they can’t access the lavatories on most airplanes,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement Friday. This rule would “bring us one step closer to the day when air travel is possible for everyone.”
The department said the proposed rule is one of its “highest priority regulatory initiatives.” It would apply to new aircraft ordered 18 years after the effective date of the final rule, or delivered 20 years after that date, but that timeline could be moved up based on feedback, the department said.
The 1986 Air Carrier Access Act bars airlines from discriminating against people with disabilities, but the law required airlines to provide accessible restrooms only on wider airplanes with dual aisles. Lawmakers have been pushing to expand those protections with bills (H.R. 1696, S. 642) to strengthen enforcement and ensure that new airplanes are designed to address the needs of people with disabilities.
As a first step to improving access, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed a rule in 2019 that would require airlines to add features such as handles and call buttons to bathrooms, two years after a congressional deadline set by the 2016 FAA reauthorization (Public Law 114-190).
“Paralyzed Veterans of America has been waiting for access to lavatories on single aisle aircraft for people with mobility disabilities since the passage of the Air Carrier Access Act nearly 36 years ago,” Charles Brown, national president of the group, said in a statement. “That’s 36 years of fasting, dehydrating, and developing medical issues as a result of a lack of access to inflight lavatories.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at email@example.com