Once upon a time I lived in the belly of a beastly ferry going from Brindisi, Italy, to Athens, Greece. On this overnight trip there were no seats, just hard wooden benches. There was no food served and nowhere to buy any. Jammed into this cramped, airless hold in the bottom of the ship was an army of Greek farmers and peasants, along with their unwashed children and wives. They also brought their chickens, goats, and sheep. I don’t know where the smell originated — the humans or the animals, but I tried my best not to breathe for the entire journey.
I paid the lowest fair possible to get to my destination. Basically, I got what I deserved for my paltry fee. As a college-aged student I couldn’t afford much more and was used to living like a vagabond. When you’re young and having an adventure called life, dignity is not your top priority. Getting where you want to go takes precedence. Being treated like shit – or pee – seems to come with the territory.
Today we have news that Ryanair plans to start charging its customers to pee and poop in their lavatories. Many consumer comments about this story suggest that Ryan’s executives must be batty to consider such a thing. I beg to differ. They are being quite wise, assuming the end-game is an increase in net revenues. They know that the young, huddled masses will gladly pay the fee or “hold it in” in order to get a lower fair. So what if they suffer the indignity of having to pay to pee — the main thing is that they will get where they are going as cheaply as possible.
As consumers we can demand more and pay more, or we can expect less and pay less. The strategy of reducing prices and removing “frills” works very nicely for Wal-Mart and it is working for the discount airlines. And airlines are not the first to go fee-crazy. Our demand for lower prices has been squeezing margins in many industries — just think of the banking industry and the avalanche of fees they now charge for things that used to be free like cashiers checks, notary signatures, counting your change. Given the expectations of investors for a reasonable return on their investment, we shouldn’t be surprised when we force them to cut prices and then have to ante up when we want a little more service.
If we were smarter consumers – or fussier or wealthier – such fees would never be considered by the sadistic marketers who impose them. Of course, the question, inevitably, is what is a “frill” and what is a core service? If you think you should have the right to pee in an airliner without paying extra, then hang out with a better class of consumers.
Or bring an empty Big Gulp container on-board (that is, if you can get it by the TSA).