Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Ryanair and Its Pay-Toilets Claim

I'm endlessly amused by the way online "news" reporting can lift a half-assed report and make it worse in the re-telling and re-telling.

For well over a year, Michael O'Leary, the publicity-savvy CEO of the European budget airline Ryanair, has regularly rattled reporters' chains and obtained publicity for various schemes, among them his pee-in-the-sky proposal to install pay toilets on the Ryanair fleet.

The latest flush of publicity rests on very thin ice, as usual. British newspapers, which love to rush breathlessly into print with smirky stories that turn out to be not fully reported, have tossed out the pay-toilets claim once again.

Here's an example of the caliber of reporting that these stories rely on, from the Guardian: "However, O'Leary confirmed that he will ask Boeing to look at putting credit card readers on toilet locks for new aircraft. 'We are serious about it,' said O'Leary, who has acquired the nickname Michael O'Really within aviation circles for some of his more outlandish claims. ..."

Nothing new here and in an even shakier report in the Daily Mail newspaper in London. The typically half-baked Daily Mail story begins: "Ryanair has confirmed that it is pushing ahead...". Right, and I confirm that I am pushing ahead with my plans to win the Nobel Prize.

Absolutely nothing is new from the last time O'Leary got copious attention for his airline's toilets. O'Really has merely again repeated that he is exploring the idea of pay toilets. He has "confirmed" that he will ask Boeing, the aircraft manufacturer, to "look at" a possible method of installing credit-card readers on lavatory doors.

Boeing, of course, has no such technology, and has announced no plans to develop it with O'Leary or anyone else. Never say never, of course, but as has been pointed out previously when O'Leary went off on this subject, the European Union has fairly detailed rules about requiring public restrooms under various circumstances. Flying a planeload of people without access to a bathroom unless they have a credit card is a proposal that's likely to attract some attention in Brussels.

Last spring, O'Leary discussed the pay-toilet scheme in a press conference in which he was widely ridiculed. Among his statements that day: "Our passengers can choose to pay a pound for the toilet, no one's forcing them to." ... "They’ll learn to go to the toilet before boarding, and they’ll go after landing ..." and "We don’t want to charge our passengers more, we want them to use toilets less. It’s about changing customer behavior."

Since then, O'Leary has admitted that the idea had no chance of flying, but on other occasions he has insisted it would work, and said that any European Union rules requiring free pay toilets under specified conditions could be overcome.

Meanwhile, the U.S. carrier Spirit Airlines has announced that it plans to start charging for using overhead bins on airplanes. That's real and outrageous enough, though the Spirit charge comes bundled with priority boarding access. Other airlines have to be looking at this stunt with great interest -- though keep in mind that Spirit is best known for very cheap fares and very limited service.

But I don't know anyone in the aviation industry who thinks O'Leary's pay-toilets are anything but a publicity stunt. And I have seen absolutely no reporting yet that takes this "story" beyond airy speculation.



John said...

As always, a great and insightful article. And good luck with winning the Noble Prize!

Anonymous said...

Even in the unlikely event that Ryanair charged for toilet use, since there is always a loo queue, surely exiting loo-users would let the next person in line in for free. How would Ryanair prevent that? Station flight attendants at the door to monitor usage?

And there are other complications. If you buy an overpriced drink, shouldn't you get a free toilet pass to eliminate it? If the flight is delayed, shouldn't toilets become free?