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Plane Lavatories May Get Bigger!

by SharonKurheg

Over time, airlines have figured out more and more ways to get more money out of us. Various fees new have been introduced (although, to their credit, this one was recently decreased and this one was eliminated entirely), and they’ve figured out all kinds of ways to jam more seats into the cabin.

Of course, more seats in the cabin mean less comfort. Over the years, seats on planes have become more narrow, and legroom has shrunk more and more. The planes’ lavatories (lavs), which were never huge to begin with, have also gotten smaller and smaller. Years ago they averaged about 48 inches long and 34 inches wide. Nowadays they’re still 48″ long but that 34 inches of width has decreased to (usually about) 24 inches. So you have to do your business, or shave, or change a baby’s diaper in a “toilet coffin” space that’s 2 feet by 4 feet (oh, and the toilet has shrunk too!). All as a way to get 6 more seats into the plane. The Washington Post wrote an excellent article about shrinking lavs back in 2018, by the way – take a look at it, if you have access to WaPo.

Anyone who has ever used a lavatory in a plane knows how difficult it is to maneuver in them. But people who have disabilities can’t even get into the lavs – they’re just too small to accommodate someone using a wheelchair, walker, etc. (we won’t even get into the fact that planes can’t accommodate even the smallest wheelchair and people who use wheelchairs have to transfer to the plane’s on-board wheelchair [called an aisle chair] and go through the embarrassment of being rolled to their seat like one would move a washing machine – here’s how it’s done – forward the video to 4:54)

The ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) requires modifications for public spaces to be accessible, however they don’t apply to planes. There are rules in place for planes with 2+ aisles to have an accessible lavatory, but 99% of domestic flights are via planes with only 1 aisle, which don’t need to have those kinds of accommodations. So if you’re disabled, the plane industry pretty much thumbed their nose and said, “too bad, so sad.” But perhaps for not much longer.

There are over 25 million Americans with mobility issues that may require accommodations when flying. And as the population ages (roughly 30% of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65 by 2030), the need for accommodations for those with mobility issues will only increase.

As it is, lots of disabled people just won’t fly because it’s not worth the hassle. Or they take part in potentially dangerous activities like purposefully dehydrating themselves so they won’t have to use the lav while on the plane.

With all of this in mind, the U.S. Transportation Department has announced it’s considering a rule that would ensure lavatories on future 1-aisled aircraft would be designed to accommodate travelers with disabilities. They’re even going so far as to call it one of its “highest priority regulatory initiatives.”

As per the proposed rule, airlines would need to, “ensure that at least one lavatory on new single-aisle aircraft with 125 or more passenger seats is large enough to permit a passenger with a disability (with the help of an assistant, if necessary) to approach, enter, and maneuver within the aircraft lavatory, as necessary, to use all lavatory facilities and leave by means of the aircraft’s on-board wheelchair.”

There is a lot – and I mean a LOT – of red tape and questions involved with this proposal:

  • Airlines, of course, are concerned about losing money. A larger lav would mean fewer seats on the plane, which means less revenue (or charging all passengers more, to make up for the lost funds). Someone would also have to buy the accessible lavs (although both Boeing and Airbus have some accessible lavs – apparently not one airline has ever purchased one. Nice.)
  • There’s the discussion of requiring these accessible lavs on NEW planes vs. on current planes.
  • There’s also a concern of how long it would take to put these new rules into place – due to legal requirements, some rules for new planes don’t have to go into effect for nearly 20 years (based on how often new aircraft is added to an airline’s fleet, that could be it’d take upwards of 45 years for all planes to be accessible).

The DOT currently has a 43-page document that goes over just about everything, including questions that still need to be researched about this topic. Meanwhile, they’re currently accepting comments about the proposed rule, before it goes to its next step. More info can be found on this page of the U.S. government’s website.

Having lavatories that are large enough to be accessible for people with mobility issues would be a wonderful thing. Obviously, those who need the accessible lavs for their intended usage would have first priority in using them (especially since it looks as if flight attendants would have to be involved in transporting the passenger(s) via the planes’ on-board wheelchairs; they wouldn’t be able to stand on line). But for those of us who feel cramped in those 24″ x 48″ “toilet coffins,” it could wind up being a beautiful thing, too.

Well, when and if they eventually all get done.

Featured Image (cropped): Kristoferb / Wikimedia

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1 comment

derek March 20, 2022 - 5:22 pm

One possibility that I would accept is the installation of 2 lavs in the rear next to each other that can be expanded into one room with 2 toilets. That would temporarily give more room, if needed. However, the plane would need at least 3 lavs in case someone else needs to go immediately.

I don’t like the narrow lavs because it is very difficult to brush teeth. The sink is by the wall and doesn’t stick out. I use my own water to brush teeth and don’t brush teeth if the flight is not too long, like 3 hours. A trip to Europe from the US, I always brush teeth.

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