Singapore Airlines to charge for use of aircraft loo?

IMAGINE THIS. From April 1, Singapore Airlines (SIA) will levy a fee for use of the aircraft loo in the air, stealing a march on Ryanair which first mooted the idea in February. Passengers are advised to carry with them the exact change for the coin slot on the toilet door.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone. Or should it? After all, SIA’s strength has always been its bold foresight to move ahead of the competition.

In 2007 independent upstarts such as Eos, MAXjet, Silverjet and l’Avion introduced less expensive all-business class travel across the Atlantic. This tempted big carriers such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to consider jumping into the competition lest their markets were eroded by the seemingly not-so-frilly business-class travel. But the British carriers would not rush in where many had yet to go.

Lufthansa decided to test the waters, but in collaboration with a Swiss company to set up Privatair, maintaining product differentiation.

SIA, however, went ahead to convert the lucrative largely Executive Economy class flights into all-exclusive business class flights between Singapore and New York as well as between Singapore and Los Angeles. It made good business sense at a time when business class travel was buoyant, and when at least 40 per cent of SIA’s revenue is derived from this class of travel.

One must recognize that SIA, though the world’s most profitable airline and one of the most efficient flying outfits, has not been spared the woes of the economic downturn. But considering how premium travel has kept it flying at the high altitude, as corporations reduce or downgrade travel privileges (and consider even budget travel) for their executives, the impact is not any less painful.

Besides, SIA is among the many airlines which have taken the wrong bet on the oil price trending upward in recent times, and the loss from hedging is another bitter pill to swallow.
But, to be fair, SIA has always been quick to react to adversity, having taken measures to reduce cost from suspending less profitable routes to using lighter inflight meal trays and cutlery.

So, is charging for the use of aircraft loo yet another such measure?

Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said in defense of his suggestion: “We will charge for every possible thing we can think to charge for, but it will always be the passengers’ choice whether they pay it or don’t pay it.” O’Leary said the company is now running an online competition to see what else the carrier can charge for on board.

Charging for the use of aircraft loo may be new, but the concept isn’t. Before budget travel was given a name some airlines have long been charging for meals, headsets and drinks on board. When the escalating fuel price led to a surge in operating costs, some airlines began charging for bags to be loaded. In a way, O’Leary may be right about passengers having a choice: you pay for what you want, the corollary being that you save on what you do not need.

Perhaps not in the case of the aircraft loo. While some travelers will make it a habit to empty their systems before boarding, in most cases, if up in the sky you have to go, you really have no choice but to pay. Some people may argue that it is already happening on ground in shopping malls and other public places. The difference is that in the air, there is no other decent option to pick.

But surely SIA cannot go the path of Ryanair. What may seem a perfectly normal business proposition for Ryanair will not do for a premium carrier like SIA.

Yes, yes, many of you would have had quickly dismissed it as an April Fool’s joke. And so it is. But it shows how the global aviation has taken its toll on the business of air travel, which during these hard times, has lost much of its romance. It is in this light that even a strong airline like SIA may have to resort to more drastic measures to stay afloat.

You may not agree with O’Leary, but his message is clear. The global economic downturn has redefined the business of air travel. At least until the dark clouds dissipate. And this is what those who want to survive must recognize.

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About Dingzi
Writer by passion, with professional expertise in aviation, customer service and creative writing. Aviation veteran, author, editor and management consultant. Besides commentary on business issues and life-interest topics, travel stories and book reviews, genres include fiction, poetry and plays. Nature lover who abhors cruelty of any form to animals, and a tireless traveler. Above all, a dreamer.

One Response to Singapore Airlines to charge for use of aircraft loo?

  1. matt says:

    This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

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