Wee shall overcome

Ryanair cabin

US airline Spirit Airlines has announced it will charge passengers who want to carry bags onto its aircraft that won’t fit under the seat in front $45 for use of the overhead bins ($30 if they pay in advance).

Irish airline Ryanair has announced that it is pressing ahead with its plan to remove two of the three onboard toilets on its planes serving routes of less than one hour, install six extra seats in their place, and develop coin-operated access to the remaining toilet: passengers who want to use it during the flight will have to pay either £1 or €1 to get access.

One of these is good business. The other is plain gouging. Which is which?

Disrepute

There seems little justification for Spirit’s charge. How can it be that the same bag – which, incidentally, remains completely untouched at all times by either Spirit staff or baggage handlers on the ground: this is not about passing on hidden costs – can command a $45 fee if it’s placed in the overhead bin rather than under the seat? Spirit is not providing a service by having the bins in place: they are providing precisely nothing more than already exists on board.

Is it about weight? No: a small bag that fits under the seats could be filled with gold bars, while a big, puffy, half-empty sports bag would have to go in the overhead bin, incurring that $45 charge.

This is simply about thinking up ways to penalise people for flying with anything other than the clothes they stand up in and – effectively – a briefcase or personal handbag. Why would they want to do that? Search me.

I’d respect them more – and, frankly, this would make more business sense too – if they ripped out all the overhead bins on their aircraft, thereby saving heaven knows how much weight onboard, and then refused to pass on the savings in fuel to their customers. That would be reprehensible, but, in the end, tolerable.

But to create a division between different classes of carry-on bags? This has been poorly thought-through, and merely brings them – and the aviation industry – into disrepute.

Good business

By contrast, Ryanair has got it right. Toilets on board planes – especially ones that are doing short-hops of under one hour – are not a right. They are a service to the customer. They cost money to install and maintain, they take up valuable on-board real estate (the sale of which is the only means for the airline to run its business) and, I’d bet, on short flights like these, they go unused 99% of the time.

Think of Ryanair like a bus company: you don’t get a toilet on board a one-hour bus ride across London. Why should you?

There’s been a lot of hot air about how Ryanair charges excessive prices for onboard snacks and drinks. Well fine: don’t buy them! It’s not obligatory to sit there stuffing your face and swigging gin and tonics! You think £2, or £5, is too much for a cup of tea? Don’t buy it. Don’t buy the scratchcards, ignore the advertising, bring your own snacks – it’s easy.

In order to benefit from what are – let’s face it – fares that everybody thought a few years back were unsustainably low (that myth’s been put to bed, hasn’t it?), treat short-hop air travel like short-hop ground travel. Go to the loo before you leave, get on, sit there like you would on a bus, then get off again. What’s not to like?

19 Comments

  1. 501places

    I share your view on Ryanair, Matthew. Too many people complain about the penny-pinching of Mr O’Leary. Nobody is forced to fly with this airline. I’m not a fan, and fly with them only when there is no viable alternative. But when I do, I’m well aware of their inflexibility and make sure I’m prepared (online check-in, well fed before boarding, carry-on bag containing snacks and water). The pay per use toilet is just another area in which we’ll have to plan ahead (to the extent that this is possible).
    Thinking long term, I see an opportunity in a modified version of speedy boarding, where for an extra €5 you can jump to the front of the lavatory queue, however many people are in front of you. That would certainly liven up a few flights…
    In any case, Ryanair’s PR team are doing a good job in keeping their brand talking about.

  2. Ben Colclough

    Interesting viewpoint. Agree in part, but think you miss a critical element in your bus analogy – if you really need a pee, you can get off a bus.

    Fully expecting to see outraged or controversy seeking travellers peeing in bottles and worst (imagine the stale smell of urine on the Ryannair upholstery – the perfect compliment to your in flight Ryannair experience). Ryannair, got to love to hate them.

  3. Matthew Teller

    Interesting thoughts, both! You’re right, Andy – I guess I’m just feeding the mighty O’Leary PR machine…

    @Ben – true enough, but then again, if you’re in THAT MUCH toilet discomfort, getting off a bus isn’t going to be much help: aside from the process of hanging on as long as you think you are physically able, then realising that you simply can’t hold off any longer, ringing the bell, getting off the bus, wondering where the heck you are, hunting around for a Starbucks or having to run into the nearest store to ask the 16-year-old kid on duty “Could I please PLEASE use your toilet NOW!” and having to face the inevitable response (“Sorry, health & safety regulations: it’s for staff use only and I’d have to ask my boss for the key anyway…”) – I mean, in that situation, if the bus offered a £1-per-use onboard toilet, of course I’d use it! And gladly. It’s only a pound, after all…

    Anyone caught peeing in bottles lays themselves open (justifiably) to arrest on arrival for gross indecency – I’d imagine people in neighbouring seats would raise objections long before the pee hits the plastic, anyway…

  4. Stuart

    Good post.

    Ho ho and everyone loves that seat next to the one bus toilet on the overnight Buchanan Street to Kings Cross. Dante-esque!

    Ok – well on the plus side from Ryanair – extra 6 seats is what – an extra 2% revenue on a 737…. So 6 extra seats at £50-80 a pop – extra £320-360 revenue? 1 hours flight – 1 toilet – 5 minutes per person – £12? So 6 flights a day extra £2-3K per plane – not to be sniffed at.

    But that’s also assuming people drink the same on board – have to assume there will be less tea and juice sales. Also in my experience people are funny about their bladders – might just stop anyone over 50 flying them. That’s gotta screw with the holiday home rental market.
    That’s always assuming the toilets airside work. Especially when “de-boarding”.

    Might have to get portaloos into Stansted and Luton….wonder if BAA will whack on an extra toilet charge. Also wonder what the CAA will say though – visions of puddles of urine flowing down the aisle…Sainsburys currently have 1/3 off all nappies though (Pampers only)…

    Yeah not convinced. But you’re right about Ryanair. Can’t stand them but fly them (like IKEA really) and if you take the necessary precautions (sunglasses, hangover, empty bladder now, wear all your clothes, ipod, well fed) it works.

    And like the budgie it’s cheap cheap. Though not so much recently…

    Cheers Stu

  5. mytimetotravel

    I’m with Ben – if you’re on a bus across London they’ll be a handy pub or cafe if you need to get off. Plus, when you get to the end of the trip, you know you can get off the bus – these days you may be stuck on the plane on the tarmac for who knows how long.

    I actually feel a bit less annoyed with Spirit – I just want the airlines to enforce the carry-on rules they already supposedly have so we can all board faster (full disclosure – my carry on goes under the seat). But I’m a happy Jet Blue customer.

  6. Matthew Teller

    @Stuart – great comment! “People are funny about their bladders” – so true. Mind you, I think the kind of people who are funny about their bladders deserted Ryanair long ago, in high dudgeon at that jumped-up little Irishman telling all those nice people at British Airways to eff off…

    @mytimetotravel – thanks for coming by! Fair enough: each to her/his own. Enforcing carry-on rules would certainly help, I agree, Like I said, the (short-haul) airline that strips out the overhead bins altogether gets my vote…

  7. Simon

    I do agree with the Ryanair bit but it will be interesting to see how it goes. I have no real issue with charging, but I do with removing two of three toilets.

    What happens if it’s a particularly bad flight or you feel ill? Do you just stick yourself in the loo rather than keep going back and forth? Is one toilet really enough for any flight? What happens if something goes wrong with this toilet?

    It’s not great for people with kids either, as often you have little control over how often or when they need to go.

  8. Matthew Teller

    @Simon – thanks for that! I think, if we were talking about anything other than one-hour (or less) flights, on just about any airline other than Ryanair, your points would be valid. As it is, we’re talking about rock-bottom cheapo shuttle flights such as Liverpool to Dublin, where there’s barely any time in the air when the seatbelt sign is off anyway.

    Families is a fair point, but my hunch is that people with kids already avoid Ryanair, partly because of the general lack of customer service, and partly because of the extra fees for checked baggage.

    I’m starting to sound like Mr O’Leary’s right-hand man here! All I’ve been trying to say is that there’s a lot of huff and puff about how this is the last straw, the final nail in the coffin – and I simply don’t think it is. It’s just a rather clever, closely targeted way to save money AND boost revenue on a specific kind of flight, which is what good business is all about.

  9. Fiona Hilliard

    Matthew, I agree with what you say about Ryanair being a bit like a bus, therefore no need for toilets….However, if this is the case, you could also argue that there is no need for crew to sell you hot-dogs, panini, drinks, chili con carne or smokeless cigarettes either!

  10. Matthew Teller

    Hi Fiona! You’re quite right – there’s no need at all… other than the fact that the airline has to deploy flight attendants for reasons of safety, so rather than have them sit on their backsides for the duration of the flight, they put them to good business use by getting them to try & flog as much stuff as possible…

  11. Hal Peat

    Since everyone else is weighing in with much more first-hand expertise on Ryanair, let me confine myself to Spirit from my side of the pond. In fact, their hub is close to me and they’ve been a critical element in my press travel when I’ve had to put the pieces together on solor ventures. The $45 fee actually starts up not till August, so I’ll be doing much before that malarkey begins — and actually, it’s $30 if you pay online, which is rather ridiculous. Spirit’s demographics and geographics are radically different than Ryanair, which is what makes their imposition of this “unbundled” fee that much more outrageous. They’re heavily, heavily dependent on immigrant Latin American traffic to and from Central America and Colombia/Peru, along with budget travelers to the West Indies. They’re shooting themselves in the foot by making their fees in the same range as American Airlines and other legacy carriers on the same route that are now offering comparable special fares. One theory I have about the timing and time frame is that they’re hoping the traveling public on these routes will adjust in their thinking and planning over the several months before it kicks in. Then again, maybe that ploy has backfired given the huge amount of sustained negative publicity thus far. How lucky you all are, Matthew. No sharks in the English Channel, aside from which you have a chunnel under it.

  12. David Whitley

    Funny how you only catch the headlines rather than the detail while you’re travelling. I hadn’t realised that the toilet thing was just for sub-1hr flights. In which case, it seems pretty reasonable.

    This said, there’s another important point to factor in here. I always pick the route first, airline second rather than the other way round. If Ryanair is the only airline that flies to Place X, I’ll fly with them.

    But, I associate Ryanair with so many add-on fees that I automatically assume their flights will be the most expensive (even though I never check baggage in for European flights). This assumption probably isn’t correct most of the time, but if I have it, others probably will too. Ryanair need to be careful – their reputation for being the cheapest is ebbing away, and being replaced with a reputation for being quite the opposite. And unpleasant with it.

  13. Matthew Teller

    @Hal, thanks so much for dropping by with a fresh perspective. You’re totally right. Peter Greenberg on CBS put it in a nutshell. The airlines have a new policy, he says: “We’re not happy till you’re not happy” – and he predicts fist-fights at Spirit Airlines check-in desks on August 1st…

    Not sure about the “no sharks in the Channel” line, though: have you clocked Eurostar’s pricing policy?

    @David – so true: there’s so much shouting about Ryanair that most people have missed the fact that the toilet thing is for sub-one hour flights. But you’re right about reputation: my feeling is that most people are aware of the add-ons – they know that Ryanair is probably cheapest if you fly without bags and without expectations. If you want to check in bags/have a drink/choose your seat/fly with kids etc, I think people automatically go elsewhere. Which is just how Ryanair like it.

  14. Tom Volpe

    Wee shall overcome.. chortle! Interesting post that I just found today. Like many people I was not aware of the sub 1 hour flight thing with Ryanair. In reality how likely is it that this will go ahead? I tend to be of the opinion that it is a publicity stunt (which obviously worked if I’m still talking about it months later….) The real problem is even if the flight is supposed to be an hour you never know how long you will actually spend on the tarmac, can you imagine the carnage (and the media fallout) after a long delay?

  15. Adam Hales

    Nice information. Thanks fir sharing it

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