Sunday, April 18, 2010

Flights of Fancy

Let's play pretend.

You're the CEO of a major airline company and things aren't going well. Revenues are shaky, fuel costs are up and the public ranks you slightly below Rosie O'Donnell on the likability index.

But you have to increase cash flow so what do you do? There's got to be some sort of revenue stream out there just waiting to be discovered.

American Airlines chief Bob Crandall once famously removed an olive from each salad served to passengers some years back. A single olive would never be missed, the reasoning went, and savings amounted to at least $40,000 a year.

That's the kind of inspiration you seek.

Then the light bulb goes on over your head.

Why should passengers be allowed to lug their carry-on baggage onto the plane for free? Charge the hell out of them for that coveted overhead storage space. If they don't like it, they can wear two or three changes of clothes.

It's brilliant in its simplicity. Problem is, this is no fantasy.

Spirit Airways announced last week that it intends to charge as much as a $45 fee for carry-on baggage.

That's skyway robbery.

"I didn't think anyone would go this far," Jay Sorensen, an airline consultant who specializes in airline fees, told the Associated Press.

But wait, it gets worse.

Not to be outdone, Ryanair Airlines, based in Dublin, Ireland, disclosed it is considering a plan that would require travelers to pay either 1 Euro

or a British pound (about $1.33 or $1.52) for using the bathroom on flights lasting one hour or less.

The carrier said it is working with Boeing to develop a coin-operated door release so that when nature calls, passengers would need to deposit the change before being able to use the facilities.

(The good news is that if Boeing is in charge of the project, there will be a 500 percent cost overrun and it will run 10 years behind schedule).

The idea is to encourage people to use restrooms in airport terminals before boarding, Ryanair said.

And why do they want to do that? So they can remove two of the three lavatories on some of its planes and squeeze in up to six extra seats. The refurbishing would reduce fares by at least 5 percent, Ryanair claimed.

We have been advised to stay hydrated on airplanes. Drink lots of water because airplane air can dry you out, and a dehydrated person is more susceptible to contracting illness. Now Ryanair has found a way to make hydration pay.

They just don't make capitalists like this anymore.

"By charging for the toilets we are hoping to change passenger behavior so that they use the bathroom before or after," said Stephen McNamara, a Ryanair spokesman.

It will indeed change passenger behavior. Ryanair will be as devoid of customers as it is toilets.

As for Spirit airlines, if they want to charge me for carry-on luggage, I'll tell them where they can stow it.

Coming soon: Fares based on your weight. Since we're treated like cargo anyway, the next logical step is to step on a scale.

Speaking of airlines, it was reported that a 91-year-old German man was refused entry to a flight in Liverpool's John Lennon Airport because he was dead.

The recently departed man was brought to the airport by two relatives, sitting in a wheelchair and sporting a pair of sunglasses.

Staff became suspicious when the man did not respond to questions by airport workers. His relatives, two women aged 41 and 66, were arrested.

The couple were believed to be attempting to flout repatriation fees for the dead man. Bodies being repatriated by air are required to be contained inside hermetically-sealed zinc-lined coffins and require paperwork to travel in the hold.

Of course, if they were flying Spirit Airways, they could have stuck him in the overhead bin for $45.

And I thought the only dead people at airports were the handlers who took an eternity to get the baggage to the carousels.

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