The newly created largest airline in the world will turn 439,000 daily toilet flushes into nearly a quarter of a million dollars revenue by charging two quarters for passengers to get an electronic potty seat to slide open 35,000 feet above toilets on the ground.
When American Airlines and U.S. Airways merged in an $11 billion deal, business critics warned of increased air fares due to decreased competition, but no one saw "Flush Fees" coming.
"That's a piddle pot full of money," said Forbes Magazine marketing and advertising columnist Will Brady cringing at his own potty-humor reference. "But will passengers plop down 50 cents to...well...plop?"
American Airlines (AA) admits consumers will need to be sold on pay toilets but says it will all become part of the new planning that airline passengers do since increased security changed what can be carried on to a flight, checked bags were reduced to one, and fees were added for food, blankets, pillows, headphones, alcohol, movies, seat selection, and snacks weighing more than 3.5 ounces.
"People will now plan ahead to void thier bladders and bowels before any flight," new American Airlines President and CEO Doug Parker said at a media event to unveil the new carbon-fibre, coin-operated toilet. "Or they'll plan to bring quarters. A prepared passenger is always a happy passenger."
AA cabin crews will give out free "Toilet Tokens" during a one-month grace period but then will "firmly enforce" the new charge with exceptions granted for children under 3, elderly over 75, wheelchair-bound passengers, and anyone presenting an "Incontinence Certificate" issued by a physician.
"The washrooms are free for freshening up, or changing a diaper on young or old," said Nancy Flatley, AA Chief of In-Flight Protocol. "It's only the toilets that are now user-pay, and we have installed highly sensitive detectors for the sinks and waste bins to detect inappropriate usages."
Reaction has been swift including from newly-formed social media protest group Occupy Sky Biffy.
"American Turns Poop Into Profit," says a banner headline on that group's new site, occupyskybiffy.org.
"I ain't payin' to give AA my undigested corn!" reads one Twitter reaction.
But with 160.5 million handle jiggles in those tight, phobic bathrooms every year, the money-tight American Airlines can take a lot of criticism for the $80 million cash injection.
"We're proud to invite our passengers to enjoy the best bathrooms in the clouds," said CEO Parker as he drops his second quarter into a new "Sky Sitter" pay toilet and watches the seat slide open with a slight whoosh.
American plans to refit their toilets starting on short-haul domestic jets starting March 15, with longer haul and international jets being altered during the summer. All of American's 1,140 jets will have charge toilets by September 1 and usage tips will be included in the pre-take-off safety demonstrations.
But questions remain for consumers.
To economize, can more than one person crowd in and use a single flush?
Will American take Mexican food off their in-flight pay menu?
What happens when Grandpa can't find his quarters?
Reporting for The Lapine
*PriceWaterclosetCoopers Chartered Accountants: 214,000,000 (2012) flight-logged passenger payload (American Airlines and U.S. Airways) X industry standard .75 toilet evacuations per passenger = 160,400,000 flushes.