Paying to Pee: Have the Airlines Gone Too Far?

Irish discount airline Ryanair's plans to charge to use the toilet might be a great cost-savings move, but it has been met by skepticism and outrage from critics who call it inhumane.

"It's one of the most absurd ideas I've ever heard," said Steven D. Soifer, an associate professor at the University of Maryland's School of Social Work.

The extra fee for the bathroom, plus the Ryanair's desire to remove two of the three restrooms to add more seats, causes problems -- especially for people with medical conditions, Soifer said. His studies include Paruresis, also known as shy bladder syndrome, where people are not able to urinate when in the presence of others. Soifer said, for instance, that a passenger might really struggle inside the sole airplane bathroom if they knew there was a long line of people waiting in the aisle.

The airline plans to charge either 1 euro or 1 British pound (about $1.30 to $1.55) to use the toilet for flights scheduled for one hour or less. By eliminating two of the three bathrooms on the plane, Ryanair plans to add six extra seats.

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That could cause major problems for somebody with incontinence who is constantly running up and down the aisle to use the bathroom, Soifer said.

"Who is going to be passing out euros or giving change? To me it's insanity," Soifer said. "Using the bathroom is a basic bodily necessity."

The airline has different hopes.

"By charging for the toilets we are hoping to change passenger behavior so that they use the bathroom before or after the flight," Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara told London's Daily Mail.

Soifer half-joked that if Ryanair does actually go through with this plan he will hop on a flight, be the first to use the toilet and then stay in the bathroom the remainder of the flight in protest.

And he's not alone in seeing potential medical issues with the new pay toilet plan.

Professor Jon Rhodes, president of the British Society of Gastroenterology, told London's Daily Express that "people with bowel disease need to go to the toilet urgently and often, with very little warning."

But don't expect the pay-potties anytime soon.

George Hobica, president of airfarewatchdog.com, said passengers will be so upset about this that they will simply hold the door open for the next person in line. Ryanair won't gain any revenue out of that one pay toilet.

"The one person who pays the pound to pee will call down the aisle, `OK, who's next!?' while holding the door open," Hobica predicts.

Hobica said Ryanair is doing this mostly for publicity – "their CEO loves to get his picture on TV," he said -- and also to allow the airline to add a few extra seats.

"It will only take a few flights where the one remaining lav malfunctions, leaving passengers with no other options than peeing in their seats, before Ryanair changes its mind on this," Hobica said. "I really don't see it flying in the long term. I'm all for airlines making a profit, but this is going to backfire if it indeed gets off the ground."

Rick Seaney, CEO of airfare-search site FareCompare.com and an ABCNews.com columnist, said that one could make the argument that it is a logical extension for Europeans who in many cases pay for public restrooms at train stations.

"But train stations don't travel at 30,000 feet in a cramped metal tube with filtered air," Seaney said. "Let's face it, lavatories on planes are not frills; we are talking basic human needs here and for Ryanair to talk about removing some lavatories while making passengers pay for the remaining toilet, at least for Americans, doesn't even pass the giggle test."

Ray Neidl, an independent airline analyst, generally supports airlines adding on extra fees.

The latest example of a new fee came last week when Spirit Airlines announced it was starting to charge a fee for carry-on bags, a fee higher than that to check luggage.

But for Neidl, Ryanair's bathroom fee is "probably stepping over the line."

"I've been always been an advocate for charging for different services on flights, but that one is going a little too far, that and withholding water," Neidl said. "Everything else is on the table."

Passengers can always revolt, although he said if any airline could get away with this, it would be Ryanair.

Ryanair is notorious for its fees. While most airlines now have checked-bag fees and charges for changing your flights, Ryanair was a pioneer in those fees and adding additional ones, such as charging all customers extra to check in for their flight. And that's not even in the airport, that's online.

Travelers put up with these fees because the no-thrills airline typically offers ridiculously low airfares on short hops between European cities.

"With Ryanair, you can never tell. I don't think it is going to work anywhere else but with Ryanair, it could work," he said. "Bottom line: I still predict it doesn't happen."

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