Arthur Frommer

Why are these two airlines so desperate?

Travelers all throughout the nation have been protesting the plan of Spirit Airlines to begin charging fees (up to $45 per bag) for carry-on luggage that is placed in the overhead racks of its planes. Complaints in large numbers have been received by the Department of Transportation, and at least four U.S. senators have introduced legislation to thwart Spirit's new policy (which is to go into effect Aug. 1).

Although Spirit does not account for any but a minor fraction of flights (many of its routes are to exotic destinations in Central America, flying there from Fort Lauder-dale, Fla.), there is concern that other airlines may copy Spirit's new charges in an effort to increase revenues.

Less attention has been paid to the almost-simultaneous announcement by Ryanair — an Anglo-Irish air carrier — that it soon will begin charging for use of the lavatories aboard its planes. Because Ryanair only flies in Europe, and still is unknown to the vast majority of Americans, less of an uproar has occurred. But again, as unlikely as it may seem, the successful introduction of coin-operated doors to Ryanair's in-flight lavatories might be emulated by American carriers.

Ryanair's specific plan (according to the Daily Mail of London) is to charge 1 British pound (about U.S. $1.50) for use of the lavatories aboard its planes.

But that's only the start of its grotesque, Halloween-like pronouncement. In order to add more seats to its planes, Ryanair also will, on some 168 aircraft, eliminate two out of three lavatories, leaving but a single one to service up to 189 people on a flight. I am not making this up.

All of us will respond in our own fashion, usually by determining never to fly Spirit Airlines or Ryanair ever again. Although Spirit's mean-spirited tactic doesn't go into effect until Aug. 1, there are indications that a massive boycott of its services may already have gone into effect. One wonders if the charge for carry-on luggage will survive a sharp drop in the carrier's business. The same with Ryanair. Would you fly on a carrier that has so little regard for its passengers' comfort and health?

Apart from speculation over what consumers' reactions will be, there is another equally serious thought that occurs to me. The two policies — charging $45 for carry-ons, charging 1 British pound for the loo — are such desperation measures, such extreme and frantic efforts to obtain additional income, that one wonders about the economic conditions that bring about such decisions. Is it possible that the cut-rate carriers are discovering that they need to charge the same amount of money as higher-priced carriers do in order to remain in business?

These are speculations. But they make you wonder whether it is wise to book advance seats on Spirit Airlines and Ryanair. Why are they so desperate?