United Airlines DREAMLINER Lavatory NOT ACCESSIBLE
Filed with United Airlines and Department of Transportation
MY RECENT FLIGHT: On February 10, 2016 I traveled on United Airlines (“United”) Flight 128 on a dual aisle Boeing 789 (Dreamliner) from Rio de Janeiro (GIG) to Houston, TX (Geo Bush International) (seat 3A). The aircraft’s accessible lavatory and On-board Wheelchair were not compliant with the Air Carrier Access Act.
COMPLAINT #1: THE LAVATORY ON THIS DUAL AISLE AIRCRAFT WAS NOT ACCESSIBLE WHICH VIOLATES THE AIR CARRIER ACCESS ACT (“ACAA”)
THE LAW: Section 382.21 Paragraph (a)(3) reads as follows: “Aircraft with more than one aisle in which lavatories are provided shall include at least one accessible lavatory. This lavatory shall permit a qualified individual with a disability to enter, maneuver within as necessary to use all lavatory facilities, and leave, by means of the aircraft’s on-board wheelchair. The accessible lavatory shall afford privacy to persons using the on-board wheelchair equivalent to that afforded ambulatory users. The lavatory shall provide door locks, accessible call buttons, grab bars, faucets and other controls, and dispensers usable by qualified individuals with a disability, including wheelchair users and persons with manual impairments”.
UNITED FLIGHT 128: During flight 128 two United attendants used the On-board Wheelchair to take me to the lavatory. The On-board Wheelchair and I were crammed into the lavatory aboard this “Dreamliner” and the attendants departed. The lavatory was certainly not accessible by any reasonable definition of accessibility.
- The lavatory provided only 12-15 square feet in total, which was unbelievably cramped when using an On-board Wheelchair. The two United attendants concluded that the only physical option was to back the On-board Wheelchair and me into the lavatory, park-it and have the attendant struggle to exit over me. The United attendants locked the rear wheels, shut the door and departed. The lavatory’s configuration positioned me side-by-side (parallel) with the toilet. My buttocks and the back of the toilet seat were aligned, and my body in sitting position was facing the entry door. There was absolutely no room to further maneuver or reposition the On-board Wheelchair within the lavatory. There was literally not an extra inch behind, ahead or on the side of the On-board Wheelchair and myself. I could not turn my body sideways or any other direction. I felt as though I was packed into a can of sardines.
- Maneuvering or repositioning the On-board Wheelchair within the lavatory, even an inch, was not an option: (i) there was no space and (ii) there were no wheelchair hand-rails or armrests to grab onto to permit maneuvering or repositioning.
- Other than transferring laterally onto the toilet, the lavatory space was so tightly cramped that I could not turn or maneuver my body in any direction. I could not even turn to face the toilet to urinate.
- I considered the option of transferring onto the toilet seat however I was not physically able to remove my pants because the On-board Wheelchair was not compliant with the ACAA (see Complaint #2). Additionally, transferring onto the toilet seat would have been extremely dangerous for a paraplegic such as myself because (i) the On-board Wheelchair was impossible to properly secure (no front locking brakes) and (ii) the two United attendants had departed and were unable
to assist in the transfer.
5. The lavatory did not afford me the privacy equivalent to ambulatory users.
Comment: The ACAA requires a dual aisle lavatory to be “accessible”. The definition of accessible should reasonably adhere closely to terms adopted by the United States Access
Board – words written to cover the civil rights of all Americans not just able-bodied airline passengers.
Since passage of the ACAA over 29 years ago in 1986 (before the creation of the ADA), The Department of Justice has published regulations for Titles II and III of the ADA in 1990 and also revised the Standards for Accessible Design regulations in the Federal Register in 2010. These became the new, legally enforceable ADA requirement for ensuring a space is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. It contains dozens of pages and diagrams defining an accessible bathroom (lavatory) under differing circumstances and environments.
The definition of “accessible” has evolved over the past 25-30 years and current regulations provide for enough lavatory space to allow a wheelchair to make a 180-degree turn and leave “clear floor space” of 60 inches in diameter for maneuvering (another term used in the ACAA). The lavatory contained on dual aisle aircraft Flight 128 was simply not “accessible”. There was not one inch of clear floor space for maneuvering. Although airlines are regulated pursuant to the ACAA, not ADA, the definition of “accessible” should be consistent. The standards adopted by the United States Access Board, which reports to both the President of the United States and Department of Justice, should prevail. The lavatory on Flight 128 cannot be deemed “accessible” by any American standard.
President Obama commented on the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015 gay marriage ruling by stating “This morning, the Supreme Court recognized that the Constitution guarantees marriage equality. In doing so, they have reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to the equal protection of the law; that all people should be treated equally, regardless of who they are”.
COMPLAINT #2: THE ON-BOARD WHEELCHAIR WAS NOT COMPLIANT WITH THE LANGUAGE IN THE AIR CARRIER ACCESS ACT (“ACAA”)
THE LAW: ACAA Section 382.21 Subsection (a)(4)(iii) states “On-board wheelchairs shall 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. The chair shall 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”.
UNITED FLIGHT 128: During the United flight the two attendants brought out the On- board Wheelchair. It was not structurally sound or functional and was certainly not compliant with ACAA rules.
1. The On-board Wheelchair was very flimsy and provided no structural support. It weighed perhaps 3-5 lb.
- There were no armrests or handles to grip (without armrests or other support it is impossible for many paraplegics such as myself to transfer onto a toilet seat).
- The On-board Wheelchair had no front brakes. Only the rear wheels had brakes and I could not reach or operate them (without brakes on all 4 wheels and the ability to operate them, there was no means to “secure” the chair or an adequate means to prevent chair movement during transfer or air turbulence). I was concerned I would fall onto the floor if I transferred and the United attendants were not available to assist.
- Backrest height was 6-8 inches. It was not high enough or strong enough to assist me in transferring or toileting functions. Like many paraplegics, without higher, stronger backrests, it is extremely difficult for me to remove my pants in the lavatory and transfer to the toilet.
- There was no ability for me to “maneuver” the On-board Wheelchair (i) along the aircraft aisle or (ii) in the lavatory.
- The On-board Wheelchair was not easily pushed, pulled or turned in the lavatory or cabin environment.
Comment: (1) The ACAA Law is quite clearly written and the On-board Wheelchair was simply not compliant. This is my 2nd complaint against United in the last 5 months regarding the non-functional On-board Wheelchair. United’s pattern of operation has not improved. (2) I found it interesting that the senior United flight steward Ian (previously with Continental Airlines) stated that this was the 1st time in 16 years he had been requested to bring out the On-Board Wheelchair for a passenger.
James A. Parsons
Cc: Department of Transportation Huffington Post