Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
Should you have to pay to answer nature’s call?
In 2010, the Irish budget airline Ryanair announced it would charge flyers between €1 and £1 to use its in-flight toilets. What’s more, the airline said it would trim the number of bathrooms per plane three to one—making more room for paying butts in seats. That would mean one fee-for-service toilet for 200 people. Even plane fee advocates said the plan went a drop too far.
“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,” independent airline analyst Ray Neidl told ABC. “Everything else is on the table.”
Ryanair’s single-toilet planes have yet to materialize, but Congress is dashing to the rescue anyway. Legislation introduced this week by Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski would bar airlines from charging passengers to go to the bathroom in the sky. The bill would also allow passengers to change their flights for free if an airplane’s lavatories are out of order.
”[T]he specter of an in-flight bathroom fee continues to loom in the background since first being broached in 2010,” Lipinski warned in a statement, in which he also referred going to the bathroom as a “basic necessity.”
If this diabolical pay-to-pee scheme would work anywhere, though, it would be on a Ryanair flight. The airline devotes a long and highly scrollable page on its website to extensive flying fees. Ryanair loves to use fees to manipulate flyers’ behavior—it is silly expensive, for example, for passengers to check in at the airport, which means the airline can cut down on labor costs there. Ryanair flyers know to expect the worst.
Also, forcing people to pee before or after a flight would legitimately save (a little) on fuel costs. FiveThirtyEight’s Luke Jensen and Brian Yutko helpfully crunched the numbers in 2014, using a flight from Boston to Denver on Southwest Airlines as a model. (Note: Jet fuel prices were quite a bit higher then):
According to our model, the total cost of fuel for operating this flight with 122 passengers (85 percent of the maximum seating-capacity) is about $7,900. Each marginal pound onboard the aircraft for this flight will result in a marginal fuel cost of a little less than 5 cents. So if every passenger remembered to go to the bathroom before boarding, shedding an average of 0.2 liters of urine, the airline would save $2.66 in fuel on this flight alone. Such tactics are not off limits.
Consider peeing before your next flight, and maybe, as Jensen and Yutko argue, your next ticket price might be a (tiny) bit lower.
In the meantime, know that “commercial flights are not required to depart with a functioning bathroom,” as Lipinski put it, and go before you fly.