Flights winner lands Ryanair in court over 'gift' grounding
A WOMAN who won a free-flights-for-life prize on Ryanair claimed in court yesterday that when she phoned up about her win company boss Michael O'Leary gave her short shrift.
Mr O'Leary allegedly told her: "Who do you think you are, ringing up demanding flights."
He was aggressive and the conversation was in raised voices, Dublin woman Jane O'Keeffe told the High Court.
Mrs O'Keeffe, now aged 35 and married with two children, won the prize in 1988 because she was Ryanair's one millionth passenger.
Nine years later, she finally got through on the phone unannounced to Mr O'Leary. He was very hostile towards her, she said.
She told Mr O'Leary she thought she was being badly treated by Ryanair.
But, she said, he told her that it was up to her to prove the legitimacy of the prize.
Mrs O'Keeffe, who was six months' pregnant and was hoping to get a flight with her husband to Scotland for the October weekend at the time, is suing Ryanair Holdings for damages, negligence, misrepresention and loss of expectation.
In its defence, Ryanair claims there was no enforceable contract in law and that what Mrs O'Keeffe received was simply a gift bestowed on her by the company.
During yesterday's hearing, a video was shown in court of a champagne reception and a band playing at Dublin Airport to mark the plaintiff - who was 21 at the time and unmarried - receiving the award in 1988.
Mrs O'Keeffe, of Mount Eagle View, Leopardstown Heights, Dublin, was a marketing executive in London at the time.
At the start of yesterday's hearing, counsel for Ryanair applied to Mr Justice Kelly for leave to amend its defence to include a plea that the system under which the prize was awarded was an unlicensed lottery, under the Gaming and Lotteries Act.
Mr Justice Kelly refused to allow the amendment, stating that it "would work an injustice" on Mrs O'Keeffe to require her at this late stage to have to meet a new plea of illegality by Ryanair who were pleading "the Gaming Acts".
But, the judge said, the plea was more than that. It was not an attractive plea because it was an assertion by Ryanair that it was itself guilty of a gaming activity which was prohibited by law and therefore the airline was itself involved in unlawful activity.
Ryanair seemed to rely on that unlawful activity with a view to denying Mrs O'Keeffe an entitlement to recover damages.
Had the plea been included in Ryanair's defence in July 2000 then Mrs O'Keeffe would know the case she would have to meet and could at that stage have decided what attitude to adopt
In evidence, Mrs O'Keeffe recalled how when she and her sister were returning to London after attending a funeral in October 1988, there was a film crew present. She was told she could be Ryanair's one-millionth passenger.
She was asked if she would mind any publicity and she replied that she would not.
She got a badge, as did everyone, which she believed said "One-in-a-Million" with the Ryanair logo.
At the duty free area, a Ryanair worker took herself and her sister to an area where they were going to announce the winner.
Mr McGoldrick, then managing director, said the winner was Jane O'Keeffe and that she had won unlimited travel for herself and a companion on any Ryanair flight for the rest of her life. She spoke with journalists and posed for photographers.
Some weeks later she was sent a written contract. At the time she was not married and did not want to name a travelling companion.
She phoned a Ryanair manager who was very understanding. She left the contract with that person and never received another one.
She used free Ryanair flights three or four times before moving back to Dublin in 1989.
Afterwards, she used them on an average of three times a year until 1997.
In October 1997, she phoned Ryanair to book a return flight to Scotland. The person she rang took her reservation.
After a number of further calls to Ryanair, she was told there were no seats left on the flights she had booked and that no booking had been made for her.
On the day before she was due to travel, she spoke to a marketing executive who asked her if she had anything in writing. She told him she did not.
The executive said that because she had nothing in writing, she was going to be limited to 12 flights a year and that Ryanair would not be liable to issue her with unlimited flights.
This was a "bolt out of the blue" and she said they could not randomly change the details as it suited them. This was the day before she was due to go to Scotland.
She made several calls to Ryanair staff and then got on to Mr O'Leary.
While negotiations were going on between the sides in 1998, she had one flight to Rimini. If there had been no dispute, she would have hoped to take flights to many cities.
Martin Hayden, counsel for Ryanair, outlined that Mrs O'Keeffe had flown four times with Ryanair in 1993, once in 1994, once in 1995, once in 1996 and twice in 1997. He told the judge he was outlining the number of flights because Mrs O'Keeffe was claiming a monetary sum from the airline as distinct from a number of flights into the future.
Mrs O'Keeffe agreed she had had no real difficulties with Ryanair in relation to flights until October 1997. She had generally booked the flights some weeks in advance.
The hearing continues today.