Why Airlines Should Charge Passengers to Use the Lavatory

Whenever Ryanair is out of the news their CEO Michael O’Leary talks about making passengers stand (to cram more people onto planes) and making them pay to use the lavatory. In the U.S. pay toilets are illegal in many states but those prohibitions wouldn’t apply to airlines since they’d be pre-empted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act.

UK pay toilets are often cleaner than free ones. Would airlines charging for lavatories give us better lavatories? Would they give us bigger lavatories since they’d become a profit center?

One strong argument that suggests airlines wouldn’t provide better lavatories if customers had to pay is that higher checked bag fees don’t mean more reliable bag delivery. United and American raised their prices without matching the delivery guarantees offered by Alaska and Delta.

Airlines are still the monopoly provider of lavatories in the air, pay toilets need to compete with each other for business but in the sky you don’t have an option of whose pay toilet to use.

However there’s a way to pay which isn’t just insert coin for entry. You could pay with your eyeballs, with your attention, and airlines could use the lavatory to market co-brand credit card signups to passengers.

Great internet companies monetize eyeballs instead of charging for services directly. That’s predominantly the strategy of Google and Facebook. Airlines could learn something from tech giants. They could offer a better product, put customers in a good mood, where they can ponder their financial future. It’s win-win. Charge for our attention with wall advertising and in exchange give us the space to soak in the message.