Ryanair Contemplating Charging for Toilet Use

Locations in this article:  London, England

Toilets signIn an interview with the BBC this morning, Michael O’Leary, the CEO of low-budget carrier Ryanair, floated the idea of making passengers pay to use toilets on planes.

“One thing we’ve looked at in the past and are looking at again is the possibility of maybe putting a coin slot on the toilet door,” O’Leary said during a conversation about how the company is trying to lower the cost of airfare by finding new sources of discretionary revenue.

O’Leary’s comments immediately provoked a strong reaction from consumer groups, pilots, the media, and even Ryanair itself.

British consumer advocacy group Which? immediately criticized the airline for putting profits before passengers.

Ryanair’s own pilots are reportedly none too pleased about the idea, and told The Times of London that they were worried about how many free toilet tokens they’d receive.

The company defended its strategy of charging for à la carte items, claiming that it makes flying more affordable.

“We’re all about finding ways of raising discretionary revenue so we can keep lowering the cost of air travel,” O’Leary said in the BBC interview.

But is Ryanair really serious about charging customers a pound to “spend a penny” (a British euphemism for relieving oneself)?

Stephen McNamara, a spokesman for Ryanair, distanced himself somewhat from O’Leary’s comments, saying that the CEO often “makes stuff up as he goes along.”

McNamara added that the idea of pay toilets had been discussed within the company but there were no firm plans to introduce it.

The backtracking makes one wonder if perhaps the airline was floating the concept of pay toilets in the media in order to test the public’s tolerance for the idea.

Ryanair LogoIf that is indeed the case, it seems that Ryanair resoundingly flunked the test, considering the overwhelmingly negative reaction.

Furthermore, it seems somewhat disingenuous for any airline to claim that raising fees would somehow lower prices, considering that any “discretionary” revenue comes directly out of passengers’ own pockets.

The catch-22 is that it is nearly impossible for Ryanair passengers to avoid paying at least some kind of fee, whether it be to check bags at the airport (versus online), buy drinks on the plane, use a credit or debit card to book a ticket—or even to check in.

Last week Ryanair became the first airline to announce its intention to get rid of check-in counters. The company’s goal is to trim staff by having passengers check in online at home, and simply drop their bag at a luggage drop point when they arrive at the airport.

Some critics of the pay-toilet idea have questioned whether it is even legal to charge to use a toilet in a plane, the way that train and bus stations do.

The British Civil Aviation Authority says yes, but others argue even if it is legal, is it not ethical. Fees for meals, drinks and baggage can be avoided by choosing to bring your own food or pack more lightly, whereas some people have no control over when they have to answer a call of nature.

Related links: BBC Interview, Bloomberg, USA Today, Associated Press, Times of London

By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.

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