Sherry hadn't taken a vacation since her accident, but she was hopeful she could still travel in her wheelchair. Her sister convinced her to give it a try and together they planned a winter beach getaway to Florida. She was relieved when the airline reservation agent told her there was an accessible lavatory on the airplane, but horrified when she actually saw it.
Sherry recalls, “My sister usually helps me transfer, and the on-board bathroom just wasn't big enough for both of us. In the end I couldn't use it. I couldn't believe that tiny room was actually classified as an accessible lavatory!"
Sherry isn't alone. Many travelers discover the real truth about accessible airline toilets the hard way.
Although accessible lavatories are mandated under the Air Carrier Access Act, the specifications are pretty minimal. All twin aisle aircraft built after 1992 are required to have one accessible lavatory with a door lock, an accessible call button and grab bars. Space is at a premium, so on-board accessible lavatories are considerably smaller than those found in the terminal.
Continental Airlines has some roomier-than-average accessible lavatories on their 777s. They are 45 inches wide and 35 inches deep, with 23-inch doors that open out. Not huge, but wide enough to accommodate an on-board wheelchair.
Even though you'll find the best lavatory access on twin aisle aircraft; some carriers, such as Continental and Air Canada, have also made efforts to make their single aisle aircraft lavatories more accessible. These lavatories are still the standard airline-size, but in most cases the floor space can be increased by closing the privacy curtains which block off the aisle in front of the lavatory.
So what airline boasts the largest accessible lavatory? Hands-down, that honor goes to Singapore Airlines which offers accessible lavatories measuring in at a spacious 56 inches wide by 41 inches deep.
The bottom line is, access varies from carrier to carrier; so check with the airline directly before whipping out your wallet. Another good resource is www.seatguru.com a website which contains seating diagrams for a number of airlines. Although Seat Guru does not address access issues, in most cases you can tell from the seating diagram if the lavatory is larger than the standard size.
Remember, the term “accessible" has a wide range of interpretations, especially where airline lavatories are concerned.
Candy Harrington is the editor of Emerging Horizons and the author of Barrier Free Travel: A Nuts and Bolts Guide For Wheelers and Slow Walkers and101 Accessible Vacations. Visit her website at http://www.101AccessibleVacations.com for access news, resources and industry updates.