LONDON, Feb. 27, 2009 -- What is the real price of flying cheap? It might be a urinary tract infection if you're flying with Ryanair and don't want to pay to use a toilet onboard.
Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary said on a BBC morining show that the airline is looking into charging its passengers £1 (about $1.43) to use the loo. The airline would install devices on toilet doors to accept both coins and credit cards.
"We think this is a flush too far," said Phill Edwards, a spokesman for the United Kingdom's largest independent travel retailer, Co-operative Travel. "Going to the loo on a flight is a pretty fundamental human requirement."
"Even though people are used to Ryanair's cost-cutting measures, this is something people will balk at. People have to compare and see whether budget flights are really the best option at the end of the day, because these costs all add up."
O'Leary doesn't foresee any problems with his proposed lavatory policy. "I don't think there is anybody in history that has got onboard a Ryanair aircraft with less than a pound," he said.
Ryanair's spokesman Stephen McNamara said his boss slightly exaggerated, and the coin slots on the toilets will not be introduced anytime soon. "However, is it not a strange measure, because customers are already paying in bus and train stations, so why shouldn't we do the same?
"Don't forget that some people travel for maybe four hours on the train without ever using the toilet or holding it up until they arrive, and no one thinks that is strange."
McNamara emphasized that customers can avoid all extra costs on Ryannair. For instance, if they don't have a bag to check, they don't have to pay for that service.
But U.K. urologist Christopher Ogden doubted whether going without goes for this "cost-cutting measure," as some passengers can't avoid a lavatory visit when flying for a few hours. "You could get a urinary tract infection if you hold up urine long enough, especially when you're susceptible to it.
"Of course, men with prostate problems will have a severe charge on a Ryanair flight, because they have to use the toilet very regularly. So will women with urinary problems."
For those passengers who try to avoid a visit to the toilet and get a urinary tract infection, the doctor advises drinking lots of cranberry juice and water. "But I guess they have to use the bathroom after that again," he quipped.
What's Next...a Charge for Life Jackets?!
Ryanair's latest plan has evoked debate from pilots on the Professional Pilots Rumor Network. One pilot, commenting under the name "ppvvmm," writes that Ryanair is "dead serious" and that the airline's chief executive believes this "is a way to increase what he called discretionary expenditure."
Another pilot joked that "and soon it shall be a few pounds for using the life jacket. ..."
Concerns regarding the crew's onboard use of the toilets was also expressed on the Web site: "How many "tokens" will the crew receive a day? One per sector? One per day? Pay your own?"
"I thought the nuclear option for air travel during the fuel crisis in 2008 was weighing each person as they boarded a flight. I was wrong," said Rick Seaney, CEO of the airline site FareCompare.com and a columnist for ABC News. "One can only hope O'Leary, who has been known to tweak a few journalists' noses, had his tongue in his cheek."
While Ryanair has not officially announced charging for use of its inflight toilets, it does plan to remove all check-in and baggage desks by the end of 2009. All customers will have to check in online and hand in their baggage at a baggage drop-off point. Extra charges at Ryanair are £15 (about $22) for each kilo of excess baggage, and £30 (about $43) for a bag.