Wednesday 25 April 2018

Ryanair's broken promise of free flights for life costs ?67,500

Kathy Donaghy and John Maddock

A RYANAIR passenger who won free flights for life after becoming the airline's one-millionth passenger was yesterday awarded ?67,500 after the High Court found the no-frills carrier had reneged on the deal.

Mother-of-two, Jane O'Keeffe (35), of Leopardstown Heights in Dublin, was also awarded costs, estimated at ?200,000.

But the award was substantially less than the ?500,000 compensation her lawyers had sought.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Peter Kelly found Mrs O'Keeffe was a more "persuasive" witness than Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary.

He also found Mr O'Leary had been bullying, hostile and aggressive in his interaction with Mrs O'Keeffe.

On October 28, 1988, Mrs O'Keeffe - then 21 and unmarried - was returning on a Ryanair flight to London following her grandmother's funeral.

During a ceremony at Dublin Airport the then chief executive PJ McGoldrick announced she was the one-millionth passenger and would have unlimited travel for herself and her nominee for life.

A video of the affair was taken and was shown during the court hearing.

Justice Kelly found that the free-flights deal offered by Ryanair that day was an enforceable contract and that Mrs O'Keeffe fulfilled her obligations to participate in publicity.

He said the arrangement had worked smoothly for many years from 1988 up to 1997 when the breach of contract took place.

Justice Kelly accepted that when Mrs O'Keeffe tried to take a free Ryanair flight to visit Scotland over the 1997 October Bank Holiday weekend, the airline reneged on the deal. Mr Justice Kelly awarded Mrs O'Keeffe damages of ?6,000 for loss of entitlement for the past five years and he awarded her ?1,500 in compensation for the "disappointment, frustration and upset that was suffered ... arising from the unpleasant and shabby treatment she suffered on that occasion".

He then dealt with the matter of future loss and awarded Mrs O'Keeffe ?60,000 bringing her award to ?67,500.

Outside the court, Mrs O'Keeffe, accompanied by husband Mark Higginbotham, said she felt vindicated by the judgment and denied she was disappointed with the award.

"I'd just like to say I'm absolutely delighted. The judge obviously considered all the evidence very thoroughly. It was very fair and I feel very vindicated by his findings," she said.

Mrs O'Keeffe, who works as a marketing executive in Rathmines, said she was glad the "ordeal" was over.

"I'm not disappointed. My legal team had always advised me that this would be approximately the figure we could expect," she said.

Asked if she would fly Ryanair again she said she had anticipated the question and believed the best answer to be "subject to availability".

Asked about Ryanair's conduct throughout she said the judgment answered that. "I can only reiterate what was said in court - I was shabbily treated by them and the judgment has vindicated me," she said.

Mrs O'Keeffe described the telephone call with Mr O'Leary as "very upsetting" and said "it was one of the reasons we ended up in the High Court".

If she wanted to fly again, she would be paying for her flights like everyone else.

In a statement issued after the judgment, Ryanair said it would not be appealing and declared itself "very satisfied" with the outcome. "Ryanair is pleased that the matter has at last been brought to a conclusion," the statement said.

During the March hearing, Ryanair had offered Mrs O'Keeffe free flights for herself and a nominated companion subject to availability, ?4,000 compensation and her legal costs. Mrs O'Keeffe rejected the offer.

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