BUDGET airline Ryanair has been rapped once again for misleading customers - this time for falsely implying rival Thomas Cook was likely to go into administration.
The reprimand came in response to a string of adverts headed "Bye bye Thomas Cook" which claimed the tour operator was in "dire straits" and had accumulated debts of nearly £1bn.
The "denigratory" campaign has now been banned for implying it was "risky" to book with the beleaguered travel company.
Ads appeared in newspapers in November as the ailing holiday giant turned to its banks for financial aid amid fears it was on the brink of collapse.
Each contained extracts from news stories which reported the British firm's woes.
Text stated: "Book Ryanair. Over 33 billion in cash reserves".
While one advert read: "Ryanair - guaranteed to keep flying this Christmas," another apparently sought to reassure customers with the words: "We're financially secure".
The marketing sparked 15 objections.
Some complainants claimed one ad implied Thomas Cook would have ceased trading by December 25.
Ryanair defended its campaign and insisted it had not set out to mock its competitor's cashflow troubles, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said.
"They believed it was factually accurate that the financial difficulties of Thomas Cook had given rise to considerable public commentary about the possibility of them going into administration and whether it was risky to book with them," it said.
While it conceded the advertisements were unlikely to cause "serious or widespread offence" or "fear or distress", the watchdog ruled against the Dublin-based carrier's campaign.
"We considered that the header Bye bye Thomas Cook pictured alongside the newspaper headlines would lead consumers to believe that Thomas Cook was likely to go into administration and that it was risky to book with them," it said.
"As a result we concluded that the ads were misleading and denigratory."
They must not appear again in their current form.
The ruling comes just weeks after the low-cost airline was similarly admonished by ASA.
Last month it was rapped for a "sexist" campaign which "objectified" women. The promotion showed a scantily clad model in lingerie, sparking a string of complaints with one flight attendant claiming it portrayed cabin crew as glamour models.
The adverts, which ran with the strapline "Red Hot Fares & Crew", have now been banned.