CRAIG PLATT October 16, 2009
Michael O’Leary airline, Ryanair, is engaging in a war of words with the BBC. Photo: Bloomberg

European budget carrier Ryanair is giving away 1.1 million seats for free in response to a critical documentary aired by the BBC’s Panorama program.

The airline promised to give away 100,000 free flights, with no taxes or charges, for every “false claim” made in the BBC documentary.

The move comes after several days of animosity between the airline and the British national broadcaster, which aired its documentary on Monday night.

The documentary, Why Hate Ryanair?, was critical of the airline’s charges for passengers, as well as its dealings with airport operators and aircraft manufacturers.

Ryanair’s outspoken head, Michael O’Leary, refused to be interviewed for the program unless the producers guaranteed his interview would run unedited. The producers refused.

On its website, the airline declared that the BBC’s “hatchet job” had “uncovered – nothing, nada, rien, diddly squat” and listed 11 points that the program made that it claimed were false or misleading.

“Ryanair has wasted the last six weeks responding to BBC Panorama‘s false claims about Ryanair,” airline spokesman Stephen McNamara said.

“Panorama has repeatedly refused Ryanair’s offer of an unedited interview, either live or pre-recorded, because they know that these false claims are rubbish and don’t stand up to scrutiny.”

“I don’t think you will find any false claims in the program,” a BBC spokesperson for the broadcaster told London’s Telegraph.

The BBC published an unedited doorstop interview with Mr O’Leary on its website in response to Ryanair’s criticism. In it, O’Leary accuses Panorama of having a bias against the airline, while also repeatedly spruiking the low fares of Ryanair.

“We guarantee the lowest fares, we offer the number one punctuality, we cancel fewer flights, we have fewer lost bags than either EasyJet or British Airways and the BBC, for some reason, doesn’t appear to like it,” he says.

The free seats are available for travel in November and December on the airline’s European network, with no destination restrictions.

Ryanair is well known for controversial statements aimed at attracting media attention.

Earlier this year, the airline suggested that passengers might be forced to pay a fee to use the toilet on planes and that the airline might look at configuring its aircraft so passengers would fly standing up.

Earlier this month, the airline removed the last of its check-in desks, forcing passengers to check in online – and charging them five pounds (A$8.70) to print out their boarding passes themselves.