Airlines take the next step: Charging for bathrooms!

Irish budget airline Ryanair recently announced that it is considering charging its passengers to use the bathroom. This follows in the steps of the airline's decision to close all of its airport check-in desks by the end of the year, and seems to represent a new gold standard in airline thrift.

This decision, while almost bizarrely self-destructive, is hardly surprising. Anybody who has been paying attention to the airlines over the past year has grown accustomed to outlandish schemes to generate revenue. Some, like Spirit airlines' decision to plaster advertisements on flight attendants, are a bit silly. Others, like United's decision to disconnect its customer service line, or Ryanair's tendency to hire sociopaths to deal with the public, almost seem designed to reduce market share.

Last summer, when petroleum prices soared to record-breaking highs, the decision to implement additional charges seemed wise. Consequently, when U.S. Airways stopped giving out free nuts, Jet Blue started charging for pillows, and U.S. Airways put a price tag on water, flyers grumbled, but they also understood. The same went for the fuel surcharges and baggage fees; although irritating, they made sense.

However, as gas prices dropped and fuel surcharges stayed, flyers began to wonder if the thrift measures weren't, in fact, a method to permanently increase prices. United's attempt to charge for meals caused some major pushback, as did U.S. Airways' attempt to charge for all drinks. Both decisions were quickly reversed.

Of course, unpopular decisions translate into reduced market share, reduced earnings, and financial misery. In fact, the airlines' added charges have often resembled a game of truth or dare. As long as carriers walk in step, added charges work, but when a carrier's added charge is not picked up by its fellows, the airline finds itself in an exposed position. This, by the way, is a large part of why U.S. Airways dropped its charge for all drinks. Not only was it exposed as especially greedy, but the charge became a primary reason for customer complaints, and thus for loss of market share.

As Ryanair follows its decision to charge for a second carry-on item with a policy that will undoubtedly encourage incontinence among its passengers, it will be interesting to see just how far the airlines' game of follow the leader can extend!
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