Passengers on Europe’s biggest airline may soon need to cross their legs – or queue to use one toilet between more than 200 people. Ryanair has dropped its plan to charge passengers for using on-board toilets, but is pressing ahead with proposals to remove two of the three lavatories on each plane and replace them with seats.
The airline’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, told The Independent “It would fundamentally lower air fares by about five per cent for all passengers” – cutting £2 from a typical £40 ticket.
The airline, which will carry 75 million passengers this year, has only one aircraft type: the Boeing 737-800. Ryanair has installed 189 seats on each plane, the maximum allowed under current rules.
“We’re trying to push Boeing to re-certify the aircraft for six more seats, particularly for short-haul flights”, said Mr O’Leary. “We very rarely use all three toilets on board our aircraft anyway.”
The aircraft manufacturer gave a guarded response. A spokesman at Boeing HQ in Seattle said “We're always listening to what our customers need but don't discuss those conversations or any business decisions.”
There is no legal stipulation for an airline to provide toilets on its aircraft. Ryanair’s longest UK route is from Rhodes to Liverpool, taking 4 hours 25 minutes. Initially, though, higher-capacity aircraft would be deployed on shorter routes, such as Stansted to Dublin or Edinburgh to Bremen.
The prospect of only one toilet being shared by 195 passengers and six crew caused alarmed in the travel industry. A spokesman for Abta, the travel association, said “We all know how inconvenient it can be if a toilet on a plane is out of order or the annoyance of queuing if someone has air sickness in one of the cubicles. This move could be a step too far in Ryanair’s on-going mission to provide a totally no-frills service.”
But the aviation consultant John Strickland said the soaring cost of oil could accelerate the process: “High fuel prices are making it difficult for even Ryanair to keep fares low, so anything which helps them to reduce costs is essential. Having six more seats on the aircraft would not require more cabin crew and would reduce cost per seat.”
The controversial Ryanair boss also insisted that the airline will continue as before, whatever the outcome of an investigation into fees for debit and credit cards. At present the airline charges an “administration fee” of £6 per person per flight, avoidable only by paying with Ryanair’s “Cash Passport”.
The Office of Fair Trading is investigating a “super-complaint” by the Consumers’ Association into charges by low-cost airlines.
The OFT says “Retailers should make headline prices meaningful for comparison purposes by not imposing surcharges for debit cards, which we consider are currently the standard online payment mechanism”. Asked whether a £40 fare to Spain would be shown as £46, to take account of the £6 charge for paying with debit or credit cards, Mr O’Leary said “It will be shown as £40 with a big asterisk: ‘Pay by the Ryanair Cash Passport’. There’s the impression created abroad that it would be an end of credit and debit fees, or Ryanair’s admin fees. There won’t be any change whatsoever.”