Capitol Correspondence - 01.13.20

Dept. of Transportation Proposes Rules to Improve Airplane Bathroom Access

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As announced by the U.S Access Board:

“The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued new proposed rules for public comment to improve restroom access for passengers with disabilities on single-aisle aircraft. The proposed regulation calls for limited improvements to lavatory interiors, enhanced criteria for onboard wheelchairs, and training of flight attendants. It is based on a negotiated rulemaking undertaken by DOT’s Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation, which included aviation industry representations and disability rights advocates, among other stakeholders.

The rule represents consensus provisions for first tier improvements to enhance the usability of lavatories on new single-aisle aircraft with 125 or more passenger seats. Current DOT regulations under the Air Carrier Access Act require an accessible lavatory on twin-aisle aircraft but not on single-aisle aircraft. However, DOT seeks to improve lavatory access on single-aisle aircraft, which are increasingly used on long-haul flights.

The regulation would require lavatories on new aircraft and retrofitted lavatories on existing aircraft to be equipped with grab bars, lower door sills, and accessible doors locks, controls, and attendant call buttons. These features are intended to facilitate assisted access for non-ambulatory passengers who can stand and pivot to transfer to the toilet. They also would permit access to the lavatory for privacy in performing non-toileting tasks related to personal hygiene or medical needs. The rule would not require lavatories to be enlarged beyond their existing footprint.

In addition, the regulation would establish improved performance standards for onboard wheelchairs, which are used to transport non-ambulatory passengers to lavatories from their seats. Under the regulation, the onboard wheelchairs would need to align with the height of airline seats for easier transfer and have wheel locks and other features for safety and stability.

The chair would allow entry in a forward manner for passengers who can perform a stand-and-pivot transfer. The rule also would require the chair to be capable of completely entering the lavatory in a backward orientation and fitting over the closed toilet lid so that the door can be closed for privacy in performing non-toileting functions.

In August, the Access Board proposed voluntary guidelines for onboard wheelchairs to supplement DOT’s performance criteria. These proposed guidelines, which contain non-binding technical specifications for the dimensions, features, and capabilities of onboard wheelchairs, would provide air carriers and onboard wheelchair manufacturers with an example as to how DOT’s performance criteria could be met. The Board is currently finalizing these guidelines based on the public comments it received.

DOT’s rule also would require airlines to train flight attendants on procedures for assisting passengers with disabilities in accessing lavatories. In addition, airlines would be required to provide information on the accessibility features of aircraft lavatories on their websites and upon request.

Comments on DOT’s proposal are due by March 2, 2020. For further information, visit DOT’s website or contact Robert Gorman of DOT’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings at (202) 366-9342 or [email protected].”