Editorial: Budget airline hypocrisy is starting to really grate

The regular run-ins between Ryanair and the Advertising Standards Authority almost always follow the same script.

The budget airline produces a provocative print ad. The ASA responds to complaints by banning it. Ryanair spits out its dummy, splutters about "censorship" and makes meaningless threats to ignore ASA orders to pull the work.

Last week, this scenario was played out again when the ASA issued instructions to media owners not to accept a Ryanair ad featuring a teenage Lolita to promote what it called the "Hottest back to school fares".

Once upon a time, these confrontations amounted to no more than "cheeking the teacher" and gave everybody a laugh. Now, they are tiresome excuses for Ryanair to milk any ASA judgment against it for as much PR as possible.

Peter Sherrard, Ryanair's head of communications, tries to claim the skimpily dressed girl in its ad cannot be called offensive when the tabloids regularly run pictures of scantily clad and topless models. Nonsense. For one thing, the ad ran in three papers (the Daily Mail, the Scottish Mail and the Herald) not known for featuring acres of naked flesh.

For another, photographing a model dressed like a school girl in a classroom is crass at a time when public concern about the threat to children from sexual predators is high.

Sherrard digs an even deeper hole by branding the ASA as a "bunch of unelected, self-appointed dimwits". Would they be the same dimwits who, four years ago, upheld Ryanair's complaint against an easyJet ad that claimed smart business travellers chose it because of its "excellent on-time performance"? Doubtless Ryanair would have led the protests had easyJet shoved two fingers up at the ASA. Its history of using the watchdog when it suits, and abusing it when it doesn't, amounts to hypocrisy of the highest order.

The airlines should substitute the knee-jerk reaction with some cool reflection on the wisdom of replacing the ASA. How would Ryanair's advertising indiscretions have fared under a statutory regulator? And just like the girl in its latest ad, Ryanair still has some growing up to do.