Written on: 9. 11. 2011 in the category: news

Ryanomics is seeping into society like sewage

THE offer looked good on the Aer Lingus website: two fares to London. Cost? No cost. Free of charge; just one of those insane little gimmicks that airlines do these days to entice passengers aboard, and once there, we can maybe be persuaded to part with our cash on a breakfast roll for €200.

The trick is not to buy the breakfast roll, of course. So we decided to buy the tickets to London. And that’s where it got interesting, because as the sale proceeded, so the taxes appeared: €67.98 per passenger. And oh yes, a handling fee; €12 per passenger. The zero air-fares ended up costing a couple of farthings under €160.00

Now this is seriously, gravely, disgustingly wrong. Yet it is part of the airline morality that is seeping out into society like sewage; the bolt-on charges that only become apparent after you have psychologically embarked on the decision to purchase tickets. And they know this: they know that people are unlikely to back out of a deal, even as the charges accumulate, because that’s the way of snake-oil salesmen down the ages. Draw the sucker on. He’ll keep coming. Yes, he’ll even accept this risible piece of internet mugging, the “handling charge”, though at best, it logically should be exacted for each transaction only, rather than be applied to every single ticket within that transaction. And do you know what’s just as bad as the surcharging? The sense of being done, of being made a sucker of, of being treated with a studied, methodical and deliberate contempt. This is the internet’s equivalent of the burglar having a crap on your carpet.

Why do governments continue to accept any such system of pricing? This newspaper doesn’t have a cover price on the front that doesn’t include VAT. Pubs are not allowed to have a drinks tariff on the wall, only to add tax and excise duty at the till. So why are airlines allowed to hide the actual prices they charge behind a spurious and deceitful opening charge, which is unrelated to the final price? This is Ryanomics. Once upon a time it was almost entertaining, when just one airline was doing it, and one could make jokes about Michael O’Leary sitting outside the aircraft loo selling Andrex by the sheet, and charging an object-avoidance tax for not hitting a chimney on take-off. But now it’s not just one airline; it is standard practice throughout the industry. So why is it tolerated? It is relatively simple matter. If the regulator finds that airlines are not declaring the full price of their tickets in their initial website offers, then there should be a special concealment tax: for every euro not declared fully in the advertised price, another euro is added to the price by the government. That’s simple, isn’t it? So why is it not done?

And that’s the mystery of so much of life: why is the intolerable tolerated by our law-makers? Their job is to protect their constituents: so why don’t they do that simple thing? Take another example: the restaurant service charge. In France, it’s illegal. The full price you pay for each item must be listed in the menu, and must include service charge. Moreover, it is illegal to ask customers if they wish to leave a tip. They may choose to do so, of course, but the waiter may not solicit a personal reward in any way. So why not here? Why does a slightly tipsy diner have to cope with multiple charges and brow-beating at the end of a meal, which at the very least, can take away the shine from an evening?

Ryanomics have now also spread to the theatre and cinema, with their online booking charges. This is morally brain-dead. If I turn up without pre-booking, the cinema is obliged to employ a ticket-seller to deal with queuing clients, which costs it money and me nothing. But the client who is costing the cinema nothing by buying online is then charged for that far-sighted munificence.

We have a grocer’s gross of politicians in Dail Eireann, who have been utterly unable to prevent these stealth charges becoming widespread; so why? What is it about the internet that causes our TDs to behave like Marco Polo arriving in Samarkand, agape with wonder? Though, of course, the restaurants that add a service charge, and then even solicit a tip, are not out in the ether: so I suppose, if our elected representatives cannot bring fiscal simplicity to the basic process of buying dinner, attempting the same to the Footpads’ Paradise that is the internet must be well beyond their legislative imaginations.

Moreover, if airlines are so good at slapping extra charges on us at source, how come they are apparently incapable of fining passengers who linger at the airport bar, knowing that their plane cannot leave because their luggage is in the hold? We’ve all seen these smirking red-faced alickadoos cockily sauntering on to the plane that they’ve kept waiting for 20 minutes while having a final pint. They wouldn’t be smirking quite so much if it had cost them €200 each. Which brings me to my final question: Why am I not Taoiseach?