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DOT announces rule requiring new single-aisle planes to have more accessible bathrooms

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Air travel can often be a hassle. But for people with disabilities, it can be an ordeal. Kelsey Ibach is a wheelchair user who says that flying means limiting her fluid intake.

KELSEY IBACH: Yeah, it's extremely difficult, especially for domestic flights in the United States. Oftentimes, there is no accessible bathroom option in flight. And so most times, I'm planning in advance so that I won't need to use the bathroom.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This week, the Transportation Department announced new rules that could help travelers like Kelsey by requiring airlines to add more accessible bathrooms on planes. New, single-aisle planes that are a little bit on the larger side - 125 seats or more - will have to have at least one bathroom that can fit someone in an on-board wheelchair and also an attendant to help them maneuver as needed.

MARTÍNEZ: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says it could make a big difference for wheelchair users.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETE BUTTIGIEG: We're excited about the potential to make it more accessible, more convenient and more dignified for millions of Americans to travel by air.

INSKEEP: And Ibach, who is an advocate for accessible travel, says travelers with disabilities are not the only ones who will benefit.

IBACH: It's also huge for some other populations, such as parents with young children or larger-set individuals that might need some extra space.

INSKEEP: To be clear, these changes are not happening tomorrow or even next year. It will probably take years because the requirements apply to planes ordered a decade after the new rule goes into effect.

IBACH: The time that it'll take to actually see this be implemented is disheartening.

MARTÍNEZ: The Department of Transportation says some changes, such as grab bars and accessible faucets, call buttons and door locks, will start to appear in airline bathrooms in about three years.

CORY LEE: I'm really happy that, like, there is an effort at least being taken.

MARTÍNEZ: But Cory Lee, another wheelchair user, says that because of his size and need for an assistant, even the larger bathrooms may not help much.

LEE: I would have to have the adult-sized changing table in the restroom. And I know that that's something that, like, the airlines are not planning to get, yet anyway.

INSKEEP: Yeah, that would take a lot of space. But all of these difficulties do not stop Lee from traveling.

LEE: The longest flight that I've ever done was about 17 hours nonstop from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa.

INSKEEP: For some time to come, a flight like that will still take him endurance.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.