Forget legroom: Airline CEO proposes "coin slot on toilet door"

More than any other airline, Ryanair is traveling to new places. Unfortunately, they're in your wallet.

The European airline is pushing even farther into the frontier of a la carte payments. Ryanair wants you to cross your legs (maybe that saves space), because its loose-lipped CEO, Michael O'Leary, told the press that the airline has seriously looked at the possibility of putting "a coin slot on the toilet door" (see the video for yourself).

His airline could start charging customers £1 (about $1.43) to use the lavatory. What if a customer doesn't have the coins? "I don't think there is anybody in history that has got on board a Ryanair aircraft with less than a pound," he flippantly told the BBC.

After the press freaked out over the idea, Ryanair came out and said, well, O'Leary was being a gasbag and that it hasn't decided for sure to do it. However, the subject has now been brought up, and the market has been softened up for the concept.
The airline didn't stop there. To start with, it has announced an intention to eliminate its check-in counters. Starting at the end of the year, there will be just some computerized kiosks and someone to tell you where to bring your bags for security clearance, as a few of the U.S. carriers such as JetBlue have. No more snaking queues. "Ultimately, we want just one in five people to check luggage," said O'Leary.

Ryanair already has a rule that charges passengers $40 for every carry-on past the one-bag limit. This week, it underscored that by saying it will even apply to customers who buy duty-free purchases at the airport. That extra income won't be insignificant for an airline whose main business is hopping between European countries.

The American liners let you bring your airport shopping on board without giving you hassle. Ryanair, though, is making it an official policy not to. If it won't fit in your single carry on, you pay $40 per parcel. Don't think the people in charge of the American carriers aren't sitting up and taking notice.

Ryanair has long been the leader in lousy service and new concepts for micropayments, something the American liners have been eagerly copying. It advertises deceptively low fares, but in fact, transportation comes with a burdensome array of extra charges, from fees to pay with a credit card ($6.30 each way) to one to check in at the airport (another $6.30) to a charge for every checked bag to a very low weight limit of 33 pounds ($13 per) before extra weight charges ($19 for every 2.2 pounds) go off the charts.

Last month, it also began rolling out planes that allow passengers to make phone calls on their own mobile phones. Each plane costs £100,000 ($143,000) to equip, and calls are billed at up to £3 ($4.30) a minute.

"You don't take a flight to contemplate your life in silence," barked the attention-hound O'Leary during a press conference at which he was dressed up like a cell phone. "Our services are not cathedral-like sanctuaries. Anyone who looks like sleeping, we wake them up to sell them things!"

There was even the time when Ryanair rejected tickets that passengers bought at websites it didn't like. So really, a "wee fee," as the British press is calling it, would not be out of character. O'Leary's airline doesn't particularly care about the comfort or convenience of its passengers.

Nor would it necessarily be something the major American carriers would be eager to duplicate anytime soon, no matter what kind of doomsday jokes people like to make about the topic. U.S. Airways' attempt to charge $2 for sodas and water failed in the marketplace, forcing the airline to recant last week.

I see the difference like this. Remember that TV game show The Weakest Link, when the dominatrix-like hostess Anne Robinson would berate contestants as being slow or ignorant as they were voted off, one by one? In Britain, where the show originated, the people compliantly and meekly agreed with her every verbal barrage. But when the show was brought to America's NBC, it didn't work. Americans fought back, and mocked Robinson in response. The American character just doesn't agree with being unreasonably told what to do. If American air carriers try the "wee fee," I fully expect passengers to start doing their business in the coffee pots on the beverage carts.

Besides, if the airlines start charging us for lavatory usage, then we're less likely to buy their expensive drinks.
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