THERE IS, as economists like to say, no such thing as a free lunch. Buy your lunch in a branch of McDonald's, however, and you may find there is no such thing as free relish, either.

Outlets in some countries now charge for ketchup and other condiments. Yet McDonald is not alone in hitting customers with unexpected charges.

Amid a surge of inflation, firms have found several stealthy ways to raise prices. Could 2024 mark a turning-point in this invidious trend.

A classic example is the technique of  ''unbundling'' , a ruse pioneered by low-cost airlines. Long ago they began charging extra fees for things that used to be included, such as in-flight food and checked luggage.

Then came charges for seat selection, or for any cabin bag larger than a sock stuffed with spare underwear.

Lately things have got really out of hand. Some airlines now apply a ''technology development charge'' for the privilege of booking online which, oddly depends on distance travelled - these web servers have to work much harder, you see, to deliver long-haul tickets.

Others charge for printed boarding passes, airport-check-ins, or in-flight blankets. It is only a matter of time before airlines start selling tickets for the shuttle bus to the plane, levying a fee per item of clothing worn, or charging to use the loo.

[ Ryanair's boss, Michael O'Leary, once actually suggested that last one.]

The World Students Society thanks Leo Mirani, Asia correspondent, The Economist, Mumbai.


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