20 June 2002

Flights for life prize costs airline £45,000

By Becky Barrow

Ryanair, the low-cost airline, was ordered to pay damages of £45,000 to its one millionth customer yesterday after reneging on its promise to give her free flights for life.

Jane O'Keeffe was a 21-year-old secretary when she won the prize in 1988. At a champagne reception at Dublin airport, she was carried aloft by Ryanair's then chief executive, PJ McGoldrick. Asked how much the offer would cost, he replied: "I haven't calculated that. We don't nitpick on a gift like that."

Yesterday, however, Mr Justice Peter Kelly found that Ryanair had breached its contract in 1997 when it started to restrict the number of flights that Mrs O'Keeffe was allowed to take.

Despite taking just three or four flights a year, the airline informed her that the offer had been reduced to 12 flights a year.

Ryanair insisted yesterday that it was "very satisfied" with the outcome, despite the High Court judge's description of the airline's current chief executive Michael O'Leary. The judge said: "I reject Mr O'Leary's assertion that he was not hostile or aggressive or bullying towards the plaintiff. I find that he was."

Asked outside court if she would be flying with Ryanair again, Mrs O'Keeffe said: "Subject to availability."