Coming Soon: Larger Aircraft Bathrooms – Better For All

Aircraft bathrooms have been shrinking. Today’s narrowbody lavatories are often as much as 10 inches narrower than they were 10 years ago. That’s uncomfortable for everyone, and for passengers with reduced mobility, it makes them practically unusable. So AirGo has come up with a concept that not only gives space back to the bathroom, making it fully accessible for wheelchair users but manages to do so without reducing passenger capacity.

AirGo Space accessible bathroom
This bathroom concept gives more space for everyone onboard. Photo: AirGo

A concept for a spacious lavatory

Passengers with reduced mobility endure a multitude of challenges when traveling by air. For example, the narrow aisle of the aircraft means personal wheelchair use is not possible, meaning passengers are forced to use airline-provided wheelchairs instead. But that’s not the only issue.

Going to the bathroom onboard can be a very difficult experience. Widebody aircraft must have accessible toilets, but narrowbodies are yet to be covered by the same rule. With aircraft like the A321LR and the 737 MAX now capable of flying for many hours, disabled passengers desperately need a better bathroom solution.

Cabin design firm AirGo has developed just such a solution. Its SPACE lavatory, a finalist in this year’s Crystal Cabin Awards, uses a triangular-shaped bathroom space, giving passengers with reduced mobility the ability to wheel into the lavatory and safely transfer themselves between the chair and the toilet.

AirGo Space accessible bathroom
The extra space makes it easy for wheelchair users to transfer themselves safely. Photo: AirGo

AirGo has designed the SPACE lavatory to be compatible with its Galaxy cabin configuration. This business class seating arrangement has been specifically designed for the single-aisle market, and would leave enough space at the end of the cabin for two spacious bathrooms to be installed.

The concept doesn’t require a reduction in seating capacity. On an A319, for example, the Space lavatory concept actually allows for four more passengers than the next nearest competitor, something that will make this attractive to both passengers and airlines.

AirGo Space accessible bathroom
When used in conjunction with the Galaxy cabin, seating capacity is actually increased. Photo: AirGo

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The problem with aircraft lavatories

At present, only widebody planes are mandated to include accessible lavatories. However, single-aisle aircraft are not subject to the same requirements. A 2016 regulation required aircraft with more than 125 seats to have a narrow wheelchair (known as an aisle chair) and lavatories with handles and controls for the disabled. Airlines would need to comply within three years of the rules being adopted.

However, the Trump administration halted the rulemaking in January 2017. The rules should have been adopted in July 2017, but with the Trump administration busily reviewing the Obama-instigated proposals, the deadline passed, and no new deadline was set.

In 2018, disabled travelers sued the DOT to force airlines to provide accessible lavatories on single-aisle planes. Around two-thirds of disabled people said that the lack of accessible bathrooms was reason enough to avoid flying altogether. In December 2019, the DOT finally issued proposals for better access to onboard toilets.

AirGo Space accessible bathroom
This larger concept would tick all the DOT boxes. Photo: AirGo

The rulemaking applies to aircraft with 125 seats or more and requires that:

  • At least one accessible bathroom is onboard
  • Assist handles are installed
  • Call buttons and accessible door locks are installed
  • Lavatory controls and soap/water dispensers can be activated by touch

However, things are still moving slowly, and the final rule is unlikely to affect in-service aircraft. The DOT has stated throughout that it does not expect to require rebuilding of current lavatory facilities, so it’s mainly new aircraft that will eventually get the upgrade.

Bigger lavatories would be a win for passengers who do not suffer from reduced mobility also. Plane bathrooms have been shrinking for years, as airlines do everything they can to maximize their passenger-carrying capacity. In 2018, the Washington Post reported that some of the bathrooms on new narrowbody aircraft had shrunk to just 24 inches wide – 10 inches smaller than older bathrooms and one inch smaller than J-Lo’s waist.

For anyone over about five foot six, this is a problem. For a passenger with reduced mobility, it’s a nightmare. Bigger bathrooms would be better for everyone, and with innovative designs like this, airlines don’t necessarily have to sacrifice passenger capacity. Let’s hope they take up the challenge soon.

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