A Congressman Is Seeking to Ban Airlines from Charging for the Loo
FIRST they came for your legroom. Then they came for your bags, your meals, your refreshments, your entertainment. When will it all stop?
If one American congressman has his way, at the bathroom door.
No trend in aviation has progressed more steadily in recent years, or engendered more grumbling, than airlines slapping a price tag on everything that was once free. Reserving an exit-row seat was once a clever insider strategy; now it is a paid upgrade. Free checked bags were once the norm. Once that changed, people started trying to take only carry-ons. Now they must sometimes shell out for these too, or apply a dubiously expansive definition to “personal item”. Depending on the airline, meals, snacks, drinks, movies, headphones and even water can come with a charge.
But using the bathroom? It is still free for now. And a bill introduced last week in Congress would keep it that way for American flights.
There is a good argument for charging for flight add-ons. Namely: these things cost money. It is reasonable to expect all passengers to share the cost of fueling the plane, paying the pilots and flight attendants, covering airport fees and the like. But what about filling the baggage hold, or running the in-flight entertainment system, or buying the meals? One could make a case that it makes sense to charge only those passengers that actually use these amenities, much as you only pay for what you order at a restaurant, or help cover road repairs by paying tolls and petrol tax. It is annoying, no doubt, but in theory at least it is keeping down the base fares for those who don’t need the extras. Using the loo, on the other hand, isn’t quite so elective. On a long flight, everyone does it. Even on shorter flights, when people have taken steps in the airport to ensure nature won’t call, some people still can’t avoid it.
That is why Ryanair, Europe’s second-biggest carrier, provoked such outrage when, in 2010, the no-frills airline contemplated installing coin-operated toilets on its planes and charging passengers £1 ($1.50) or €1 ($1.09) per visit. The incentive wasn’t so much to make a buck off the toilet fees as to get fliers to go before boarding the plane. As an airline spokesman told the Daily Mail at the time: “By charging for the toilets we are hoping to change passenger behaviour so that they use the bathroom before or after the flight. That will enable us to remove two out of three of the toilets and make way for at least six extra seats on board.” (It also had much to do with that carrier’s craving for constant attention. Which is why it seemed to roll out such outlandish ideas almost monthly.)
The plan fizzled amid a flurry of criticism, but it was still on the mind of Dan Lipinski, a Democratic congressman from Illinois, last week when he introduced the Comfortable and Fair Flights Act of 2015. “As ancillary fees continue to grow,” Mr Lipinski said in a statement accompanying the bill, “the spectre of an in-flight bathroom fee continues to loom in the background since first being broached in 2010.”
Mr Lipinski’s bill would ban airlines from charging for lavatory use. It would also give passengers the ability to change flights without a fee if the bathrooms on the plane are not working prior to takeoff. And, in a flick at an unrelated frequent-flier annoyance, it would force airlines to refund passengers’ bag fees if luggage arrive more than two hours late. But the principal aim of the bill is to make sure passengers don’t have to choose between their dollar and their bladder. “More and more, when airline passengers get on a flight they expect to suffer from uncomfortable conditions; as a frequent flyer I understand this,” Mr Lipinski said. “One thing they should never have to worry about is access to a bathroom.”
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