Ryan Air, the pioneer in unbundled airline travel and the first one to charge baggage fees, has come up with the plan for next level of airline unbundling: unbundle the facilities and charge passengers a pound each time they want to go to, as the British would say loo.
Times Online quotes Ryan Air CEO from his BBC interview,
Michael O’Leary said that the carrier had been investigating fitting coin slots to the doors of aircraft toilets, similar to those installed at train stations.
“One thing we have looked at in the past and are looking at again is the possibility of maybe putting a coin slot on the toilet door so that people might actually have to spend a pound to spend a penny in future,” he told BBC Breakfast this morning.
Can the airplane toilet be unbundled? There are problems with this unlike the baggage fee and in flight drinks. The necessary condition I defined for a unbundling to be possible is, the component should be truly optional and there should be other options for the consumers.
- with baggage fee travelers can pack light,
- with charge for in flight drinks travelers can bring a drink they bought outside .
While one could argue that travelers may choose to use the toilet or other means (it Depend), this is a service component that has no alternatives and is not optional. So people expect this to be a required component that is essentially not unbundle-able.
A statement issued by RyanAir, in response to customer outcry, said:
“Not everyone uses the toilet on board one of our flights but those that do could help to reduce airfares for all passengers. Then again, maybe O’Leary was just taking the p*** this morning.”
Next there is the fairness issue. Unlike baggage service where those who do not check in bags feel it is fair that the airline charges those who do check in bags, everyone knows they will need the toilet and will use it. So the move will face backlash from even those who do not use plane toilets on a regular basis.
Could RyanAir have handled this better and managed consumer behavior with a Reference Price option? I am not sure. One way could have been have two kinds of toilet, a free version and a paid version. Either the paid version could be marginally better or the free version could be significantly worse. This preserves the precondition I stated above and alleviates the fairness issue. But in the end if an airline is really looking at revenue opportunities from people using the facilities, it is certainly loo-dicrous times we live in.