Airline CEO says he's serious about charging for bathrooms

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A week ago, when we reported that Irish budget airline Ryanair was thinking about charging its passengers to use the bathroom, we assumed (as did many others) that the entire plan was a cheap stunt. Although the airline has already demonstrated its ability to push the outer edges of the thrift envelope, the idea of charging for potty privileges seemed dangerous, self-destructive, and borderline illegal. After the announcement, and Ryanair's ensuing flush of free publicity, most pundits assumed that the idea would quietly disappear.

This week, however, Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary emphasized that he was not joking and that he has already asked airline manufacturer Boeing to design bathrooms that will only open after being swiped with a credit card. Apparently, his earlier idea of offering coin-operated toilets was problematic, given that Ryanair travels between Great Britain, which uses pounds, and the rest of Europe, which uses the Euro. Since coin-operated doors can only accept one type of currency, either Brits or other Europeans would be stuck without bathroom privileges for the duration of their flight.

This announcement follows on the heels of other outrageous Ryanair scandals, including a public battle over the company's horrific customer service. In recent months, it has also instituted charges for more than one carry-on bag, and has shut down all their airport check-in desks. It charges for all in-flight drinks and snacks, including water, and even sells bingo cards to customers. For all of its cheapness and discomfort, however, Ryanair is also Europe's most profitable and rapidly expanding airline.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the O'Leary press conference was the apparent glee that the chief executive seemed to take in his passengers' discomfort. In America, such announcements are usually accompanied by endless explanations, apologies, and crocodile tears. O'Leary, on the other hand, displayed considerable pleasure at the prospect of reaping an estimated fifteen million pounds per year from his customers.

One wonders, however, how long O'Leary's pleasure will last. The Irish, after all, are not strangers to excreta-based rebellion; 1978's "Dirty Protest" would seem to suggest that Ryanair can only push its customers so far before it runs the danger of losing this particular game of high-stakes duodenal poker. While a hodgepodge of laws regulate public self-exposure, there doesn't seem to be an acknowledged international standard regulating excretion, which means that the airline is going to find itself relying on a combination of shame and self-respect to keep its customers from calling its bluff.

One way or another, I predict that Depends is going to start doing some brisk business in Ireland's airports!
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