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?


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?