House committee may probe US airlines on Ryanair pay-toilet schemeNewsBy Dennis Schaal | April 9, 2010Share This article was originally published on Don't be surprised if the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee calls in U.S. airline officials for a hearing and asks them if they intend to follow Ryanair's move to institute pay toilets.Committee spokesman Jim Berard says Congress is on recess and he hasn't spoken to committee chairman Rep. James Oberstar, a Democrat from Minnesota, about the issue, but the committee may well conduct a hearing on pay toilets because it is a health and safety issue."It's one thing to charge for an extra service for a blanket or a pillow," Berard says. "Even for a checked bag."But pay toilets "are a health and safety issue, pure and simple," he says.The fact that Ryanair is based in Ireland and doesn't fly to the U.S. wouldn't dissuade the committee, Berard says, because committee members could ask U.S. airline officials "do you intend to follow Ryanair's lead and why."A hearing on the subject "is not out of the question," Berard says, adding that the topic would be raised next week when the congressional recess is over.A consumer group, FlyersRights.org, called on Congress April 8 to bar U.S. airlines from implementing pay-toilet fees and from charging passengers for carry-on bags, as Spirit Airlines announced it will do.Berard says issues like luggage, blanket and food charges on airlines are not usually matters that the House committee usually gets into, but he adds the committee may want "to shine a light" on Spirit's new policy.The larger issue, Berard says, is that the airlines are artificially lowering excise taxes, which go for airport and air traffic improvements, when they separate checked-bag and other fees from the base fare."The fare in one sense is being kept artificially low," he says, adding that Congress is concerned about the transparency issue, as well.A House-Senate conference committee is slated to take up a multi-year authorization bill for the FAA, and one of the issues is disparate language on how airlines should disclosed the bevy of new fees to consumers.The Senate version of authorization bill would mandate that the airlines disclose the fees at the point of purchase, and Berard says he believes members of the House will likely push for those fees to be disclosed "upfront."Consumers have felt fairly powerless as airlines have tacked on bag and other fees.Perhaps, if Congress and consumer groups get involved, the airlines will start to feel a little bit of a pushback.