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Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 05:21 GMT 06:21 UK
Ryans fly for free
Ryanair plane
Ryanair: Ready for a rush of Ryans
Competition in the budget airline market has taken a surreal twist.

Two companies are offering free flights to people called Ryan as the battle hots up on routes between the UK and Ireland.

Virgin Express is offering people with the surname Ryan a free return flight to the UK in the first half of May.

Ryanair has decided to go one better: Ryans can fly for free and take one of their friends for free as well.

Ryans snap up flights

"There has been huge demand... there are a lot of Ryans out there," a Ryanair spokeswoman said.

Meg Ryan could treat a friend to a free flight to Stansted

"There are an amazing amount of Ryans in Ireland," the Virgin Express spokeswoman agreed.

Demand had been strong, she added, "especially from Tipperary - that is the hub of all the Ryans in Ireland".

Virgin Express says its promotion is to highlight its service between London Gatwick and Shannon, which starts on 4 May.

"We are a fun airline. Ryan is as good a name as any. It could have been O'Connor or Murphy," the Virgin Express spokeswoman explained.

Ryanair claims the Virgin Express offer is a reaction to its decision to operate bargain return flights from Shannon to Stansted.

"People asked us if we would respond by offering free flights to virgins, but we thought it would be easier to check if someone's surname is Ryan," the Ryanair spokeswoman laughed.

No such thing as a free flight

The two airlines have declined to say how many seats are available for Ryans and their friends.

When contacted, the reservation centres at both airlines confirmed that seats were still available, but warned that they were filling up quickly.

Ryans need to show up with proof of their indentity to claim their free flight, but will face airport charges.

Virgin Express say that will cost IR£12.90 per passenger.

At Ryanair, the airport charges amount to IR£53.52 for a Ryan plus a friend.

Budget competition

The budget airline market is an increasingly crowded one.

The main players are Ryanair, Virgin Express, British Airway's Go, easyJet and Buzz.

Some forecasts are that the budget market could account for 15 million passengers by 2003.

Ryanair started scheduled services between Ireland and the UK in June 1985 and is popularly recognised as the driver for forcing down airline prices between Ireland and England.

Both Ryanair and Virgin Express are now keen to expand into the west coast of Ireland, where Shannon, traditionally a stop-off en-route to the US, is the principal airport.

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See also:

09 Nov 99 | The Company File
Ryanair profits jump 17%
04 Jan 00 | Business
Buzz takes to the skies
08 Feb 00 | Business
Profits soar at Ryanair
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