Are airplane lavatories wheelchair accessible?

Wheelchair accessible washrooms are available on many of today's airplanes, but not every aircraft is equipped. U.S. law only requires airlines to provide an accessible toilet on wide-body airplanes with dual aisles. Wide-body airplanes include the Airbus A330, Airbus A340, Airbus A350, Airbus A380, Boeing 747, Boeing 767, Boeing 777 and Boeing 787. Airlines are required to provide onboard aisle chairs on aircraft with an accessible lavatory.

While some airlines have installed accessible lavatories on narrow-body airplanes including the Airbus A220, Airbus A320, Airbus A321 and Boeing 757, they are not required to do so by law. Travelers should not count on an accessible lavatory being available on a single aisle aircraft.

Some older wide-body airplanes operated by foreign carriers are exempt from this requirement due to a "grandfather clause." Airlines are required to answer your questions about the availability of an accessible lavatory — call to make sure your flight will be accessible.

How big are accessible airplane lavatories?

Not all accessible lavatories are created equal. Airlines have many cabin interior options to choose from, and they do not always install the most disability-friendly lavatories. The photos below depict some of the most common accessible airplane bathroom layouts

The design pictured here is one of the most common, and I have seen it on aircraft types including the Airbus A330, Boeing 767 and Boeing 787. A wall separating two standard lavatories is collapsed to provide additional space. Twice the space and twice the number of toilets.

Even with twice the space (and twice the number of toilets), the lavatory remains cramped. There is just enough room to perform an admittedly awkward transfer onto the toilet. You'll need to be patient and take your time to avoid mistakes or injury. It's not ideal, but this is considered accessible by many air carriers today.

How do I use the airplane bathroom if I cannot walk?

If you are unable to walk, getting to the airplane lavatory will require using a small onboard aisle chair. Onboard aisle chairs vary in design, but must adhere to the following requirements:

On-board wheelchairs must include footrests, armrests which are movable or removable, adequate occupant restraint systems, a backrest height that permits assistance to passengers in transferring, structurally sound handles for maneuvering the occupied chair, and wheel locks or another adequate means to prevent chair movement during transfer or turbulence. §382.65(c)(1)

The chair must be designed to be compatible with the maneuvering space, aisle width, and seat height of the aircraft on which it is to be used, and to be easily pushed, pulled, and turned in the cabin environment by carrier personnel. §382.65(c)(2)

If you need to use the toilet, ring your call button and ask the flight attendant for assistance to the lavatory. Flight attendants can assist you from your seat to the aisle chair and will push you to the accessible lavatory onboard.

Please be advised that the flight crew are not able to help with toilet transfers or any matters of personal care. If you cannot manage unaided, you should make alternate arrangements or travel with a personal care assistant or companion.

Which airplanes have an aisle chair for use during the flight?

Wide body aircraft include the Boeing 747, Boeing 767, Boeing 777, Boeing 787, Airbus A330, Airbus A340, Airbus A350 and Airbus A380. If you are not on a wide body aircraft and do not think you will be able to go without the restroom, let the airline check-in agent know and they will load an aisle chair on your narrow body aircraft with more than 60 seats to comply with the following U.S. Department of Transportation regulation: