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AIRLINES: WANT TO REALLY PACK 'EM IN?

Memo to: Spirit Airlines

Re: How You Can Make Even More Money!

I recently traveled from Washington, D.C., to Fort Lauderdale on one of your famously cut-rate flights, and most things went swell. We took off and landed on time. The flight attendants were pleasant and courteous, and when they delivered the news that a cup of coffee cost $2, their expressions were appropriately contrite.

But I am not writing to complain about the $2 coffee. I am not writing to complain at all. I am writing to suggest how you can better maximize your profits.

I know you guys are already pretty good at cost-cutting. For example, I see from an article in Aviation Week that in your company's headquarters, employees are required to double as janitors for their own offices and that only one light bulb is used in multibulb fixtures. Where I think you need some help is on the revenue-production side, specifically, the number of tushies-per-airplane.

I am not a large or lanky man, but on this full flight the only way I could keep my knees from mashing against the seat back in front of me was if I sat up, ramrod straight, shoulders back, arms forward, hands clasped on my tray table, like a 1950s-era Catholic school kid under threat of a knuckle-rapping. A man behind me observed loudly that we were packed like sardines, but this comparison was unfair to the shelf-stable seafood packaging industry.

Again, I am not complaining. My point is that with some additional creative thinking, you could cram even more people into your planes. I am offering you here, free of charge, my five-pronged plan.

(1) Sell lavatory seats. I don't mean that you should charge for use of the lavatory, though that might be a good fallback position. What I mean is, let customers purchase tickets to the lavatory seats. By my observation, the bathrooms were unoccupied for roughly half the flight, which is a woeful waste of available space. I suspect that for many customers, all that extra room, plus the guarantee of never having to wait to use the facilities, would more than offset the minor inconvenience of having to briefly give up their seat a few dozen times during the flight.

(2) Rethink the entire seating plan. What if you actually removed eight or nine rows of seats from every plane in your fleet, and redistributed the remaining seats so that each had roughly 12 more inches of legroom? This would permit you to DOUBLE your capacity by selling that additional space to people under a special deluxe "big top" seating plan: These passengers would hang from the seat backs like fruit bats, or, more precisely, like circus trapeze artists prepared to make a "catch." Their knees would bend over the top of the seat back. While "big top" seating would have to be sold at reduced rates, you could make up the difference by charging more for the regular seats, because each would now come with a comfy headrest fashioned from the hanging passengers' calves.

(3) Make better use of available space. FAA regulations make it clear that the cargo area must be reserved for baggage. You can get around this: Introduce a special low-cost fare for people willing to fly inside their suitcases.

(4) Fire all flight attendants. You will not only save on their salaries, but these glorified, nonpaying passengers are taking up valuable space that could be otherwise monetized. Everyone knows what a flight attendant does - it's not exactly rocket science. You can introduce a special "Beverage Cart Pilot" ticket, where the passenger agrees to perform the duties of the flight attendant. Even though there is a work obligation to these tickets, they can be sold at regular rates because the passenger will be allowed to accept tips.

And finally:

(5) Because they wouldn't require a seat of their own, you should offer reduced ticket prices to lap dancers.

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. You can chat with him online at noon Tuesdays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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