Airline Surcharges: Pay to Pee?
Quentin Letts informs me that Ryanair, an Irish no-frills outfit of which I’d never previously heard, is contemplating charging passengers a fee to use the toilet.
That is how it manages to charge such low basic fares for its flights. What they give you in discounted tickets, they try to claw back in the way of incidentals, from pay-per-bag luggage rates to preferential boarding deals and in-flight trinkets.
Want to pay by credit card? That’ll be extra. Want to check in at the airport with a real human being? It’ll cost ya. Insurance gets whacked on the price of your ticket at the blink of an eyelid. Booking a Ryanair ticket online is like a steeplechase, each jump being another grab for money.
The moment you step on one of Ryanair’s gaudily decorated aircraft, with their plastic yellow seat tops and their first-on-board-wins seating policy, you are bombarded with advertisements for car hire, aftershave, hot chocolate, sandwiches and so forth. It is not unlike visiting a Middle Eastern bazaar and being pestered for baksheesh by a wall-eyed leper.
And all this is before the stewardesses come trawling through the cabin with their trolleys of comestibles and gift ware. “You wanna buy, meester? Very good rates. Yessss.” It’s worse than the Djemaa el Fna in Marrakesh.
Imagine taking your wife and children on a flight where they had to pay to use the khazi. Knowing my brood, we’d be skint before we reached our destination. Human nature dictates that when you’re told you can’t go, it makes you want to go all the more, and modern air passengers seldom seem able to last a two-hour flight without answering a call of nature.
Glenn Reynolds is less good humored about the matter, observing that, “The plethora of nuisance charges being added to air travel just means that when you shop ticket price, you’re shopping a deceptive number. Airlines push that down as far as they can, then try to make the money back with other items they hope you won’t really notice.”
Quite so. Still, one can’t really blame the airlines. Well, not entirely anyway.
A couple years ago, my wife and I were on vacation and having cocktails in the hotel lounge with a retired airline pilot who was now doing private charter flights for the well-to-do. I noted the serious decline in pleasantness of the airline experience even within my relatively short memory and he said that this is what the traveling customer had demanded.
When flying was a luxury affordable by only the wealthy or, as was the case when I flew as a kid, those for whom the company (in our case, the United States Army) was paying for the tickets, service was king and airlines who treated their customers well were rewarded with loyalty. Over the last quarter century or so, though, flying became affordable to the masses while being transformed into a commodity service. Most customers shop exclusively by price and will take the ticket that’s $20 cheaper regardless of carrier. Airlines that tried to attract customers with service were quickly abandoned in this environment, creating a race to the bottom, with amenities stripped away and more seats packed into the cabin.
That’s not the whole story, of course. On many routes, one or at most two carriers dominate because they’ve essentially rented all the gate space at the airports. WIthout competition, there’s no incentive for service. But, even with competition, most people would go with the cheapest fare.
Photo by Flickr user Shamrock350 under Creative Commons license.