Does this sound familiar? You’ve got a flight coming up, so in the hours before you stop drinking water, and plan bathroom visits before you board, knowing there won’t be a toilet you can access on the flight. It’s an all-too-common scenario for travellers with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Transport (DOT) is going to make it a thing of the past.
On the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the DOT announced a new rule which requires airplane toilets to be more accessible. This rule will compel airlines to make lavatories on new single-aisle aircraft large enough to permit a passenger with a disability and companion to approach, enter, and manoeuvre inside.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says: “Travelling can be stressful enough without worrying about being able to access a restroom; yet today, millions of wheelchair users are forced to choose between dehydrating themselves before boarding a plane or avoiding air travel altogether.”
“We are proud to announce this rule that will make airplane bathrooms larger and more accessible, ensuring travellers in wheelchairs are afforded the same access and dignity as the rest of the travelling public.”
This significant step forward is part of a larger suite of changes and investment, all aimed at making air travel more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities. The DOT has awarded billions of dollars through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to upgrade airport terminals, including adding wheelchair ramps, accessible bathrooms, and more. The DOT is also in the preliminary stages of introducing rules that would allow passengers to stay in their own wheelchair when they fly (in alignment with Delta’s Air 4 All seating prototype exhibited earlier this year), and require better training for airline staff who physically assist passengers with disabilities or handle battery-powered wheelchairs or scooters.
Airlines are also taking autonomous steps to ensure a better flying experience for people with disabilities. United Airlines is including a search filter for customers booking flights that will allow them to select planes that will more easily accommodate their mobility equipment. They have also announced that they will refund the fare difference if a passenger has to take a more expensive flight to accommodate their wheelchair.
These changes will take time to implement, but they represent a major shift in the right direction for accessible and inclusive travel. The Australian Civil Aviation Authority is yet to announce whether they plan to follow the U.S. DOT’s lead.