Airline proposes in-flight gambling

Irish carrier Ryanair would offer free flying on casino planes

November 04, 2005|By COX NEWS SERVICE

LONDON -- A major European airline's passengers could start flying free if onboard gambling takes off.

Michael O'Leary, chief executive of Irish discount carrier Ryanair, told the Independent newspaper this week that the airline gave away about a quarter of its seats last year, and that the figure could easily jump to 100 percent if his plan for casinos at 30,000 feet proves successful.

He said he hopes to launch a service by 2007 that would let passengers gamble using either their cell phones or BlackBerry devices provided by Ryanair. The only holdup: The airline must find a way to charge a passenger's credit card before the flight ends.

O'Leary said he's hoping to land a gambling operator as a partner in the next two to three months so that the airline can begin tests of wagering by next summer.

He said that the world's second-biggest international carrier could see a boost to its bottom line of at least $85 million if 25 percent to 30 percent of passengers take to the idea of in-flight gambling. Ryanair's annual profits are now about $375 million.

O'Leary shot back at critics who fear gambling could make plane travel unsuitable for younger and impressionable passengers.

"The image of airlines today is high-cost, rip-off, poor food," said the flamboyant Irish businessman. "I don't see how onboard gambling could make that worse."

Ryanair is Europe's largest no-frills carrier, modeled on Southwest Airlines. The Dublin-based airline flew more than 3 million passengers in October and hopes its total will near 35 million this year.

Ryanair launched its latest free ticket promotion on Wednesday, giving away 2 million seats - passengers do have to pay taxes - over the next three months. The free flights are available on limited days to people who reserve by Nov. 11.

O'Leary has said that he believes Ryanair's non-ticket revenues will climb significantly in the coming years, thanks to paid in-flight entertainment. But in April, Ryanair ended its first experiment in that area, in which it asked passengers to pay about $8.50 per flight for films and music.

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