Court Orders DOT to Explain Why It Missed Deadline to Issue Rule Addressing Airline Restroom Accessibility

Post Date: December 9, 2019
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Washington, D.C. — Last Friday, a federal court ordered the Department of Transportation to explain why the agency missed another deadline to issue a rule addressing airline restroom accessibility. The order was issued as part of an ongoing lawsuit  filed by Democracy Forward, on behalf of Paralyzed Veterans of America, against DOT for denying full restroom access for veterans and travelers with mobility impairments, in violation of federal law. The lack of a requirement for accessible lavatories on single-aisle aircraft means that passengers with disabilities are often forced to take extreme measures, including intentionally dehydrating, before long voyages. DOT has until December 16, 2019 to explain the reason for the further delay and set a new date to issue the proposed lavatory access rule.

In July 2018, the groups filed a lawsuit against DOT after Secretary Elaine Chao ignored a Congressional mandate requiring the agency to issue the long-overdue rule. In response to litigation, DOT advised the Court that it would issue a proposed rule by December 2, 2019. However, as the Court noted, DOT failed to publish this proposed rule, missing its own deadline without providing any further clarity to the Court or affected travelers about when it will actually fulfill its legal requirements.

Paralyzed Veterans of America and Democracy Forward issue the following statement in response:

“Once again the Department of Transportation has shown a disregard for the law and a lack of concern for the indignities faced by air travelers with disabilities. Access to a restroom should be a basic human right and it’s beyond disconcerting that America’s paralyzed veterans are continuing to wait for DOT to follow through on its legal duty to advance protections for their health and safety. Our nation’s veterans and all people with disabilities deserve better.”

READ Interview with Navy Vet Thomas Wheaton on Harm Caused by DOT’s Unlawful Delay

READWheaton’s Declaration to the Court on Extreme Measures Taken Ahead of Air Travel


Congress gave DOT until 2017 to propose new rules addressing lavatory accessibility on commercial single-aisle aircraft. PVA was part of a group of disability advocates and airline industry representatives that presented the agency with a negotiated consensus rule to issue for public comment, which DOT failed to release. Secretary Elaine Chao provided no justification for this failure.

In response to PVA’s lawsuit challenging the delay, DOT advised a federal court that it would issue the proposed rule by December 2, 2019. The court stayed PVA’s litigation and required DOT to provide ongoing status reports. Many new airplane restrooms are just 24 inches wide (nearly a foot narrower than an average porta-potty), yet in June 2019 DOT indicated that any proposed rule issued would only address measures that fall “short of increasing the size of the lavatories.”