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Airlines in the news as Ryanair has to pay out and larger folk have to fork out

BRAND WATCH - A small Irish court case turned into an international incident for Ryanair, while 'people of size' had the same effect on Southwest Airlines, writes Jennifer Whitehead in this week's Brand Watch

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A rare moment of bad press from the BYO airline Ryanair this week, following its treatment of its millionth passenger.

Jane O'Keeffe won free flights for life in 1988 in a blaze of publicity after being named as the budget airline's one-millionth passenger. After several years of claiming a few free flights a year, O'Keeffe said that she had started having problems book her free flights.

She eventually took the airline to court in what became a public relations disaster for Ryanair -- as well as costing the airline €67,500 (£43,000) in a payout to O'Keeffe.

And in the US, the original budget airline Southwest split opinion when it announced that it was planning to charge larger passengers for two seats.

While the decision immediately sparked support from those who have had to travel next to "persons of size", it must have put the fear of litigation into travel agents in the US. For it emerged that Southwest Airlines had not issued any weight or height requirements specifying who must book two seats. Instead, it is leaving it up to the judgement of those selling tickets.

Allan Leighton, chairman of the soon-to-be-renamed Consignia, was in the papers last week for his plain-speaking comments on the Royal Mail's huge losses and subsequent redundancy plans.

However, his plain-speaking ways landed him in the news again. Leighton had written to 170,000 of the Royal Mail's employees, telling them he was "hacked off" at the company's management for their failure to implement a pay and productivity deal.

However, in these paranoid times, plain speaking isn't just plain speaking -- it could also be clever spin, and Leighton's letter immediately drew the ire of union leaders. John Keggie, deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, was inspired to write back saying: "You may believe that by slagging off your managers and trade union representatives you will become popular with some individuals. However, I believe your attempts to gain immediate popularity will be seen for what they are -- shallow and insincere." Watch the handbags fly.

Levi's may be on the verge of winning an award for its Engineered Jeans advertising, but it wasn't winning hearts and minds of investors this week. The company revealed it had slipped £57m into debt in the first quarter of the year.

After five years of falling sales, Levi Strauss incurred a one-off charge of £120m as it restructured, aiming to cut costs. The company said that its European business had been hard hit by competition on price.

Also aiming to turn around sales and generate a bit of market excitement... this week Nokia and Sony Ericsson both launched new models of mobile phones. Without offering anything really groundbreaking, both companies were resorting to gimmicks with their new handsets.

One of the Sony Ericsson models is available with a digital camera attached, while full-colour display screens seem to becoming standard. Not only do operators hope that the new models will stimulate sales, but it is hoped they will also encourage users to spend more offering services such as picture messaging.

The supermarket Safeway has been hoping to drive sales by offering "free petrol" to customers spending over £150 at one of their stores -- free, in this case, meaning they only paid for duty and tax on the fuel.

However, its plans -- largely tipped to be the start of a "forecourt war" -- have come unstuck after complaints against the retailer were filed with the Office of Fair Trading. These allege that the offer is "aggressive and predatory" -- however, nobody has mentioned the fact that British shoppers risk being traumatised by the shock of finding a genuine bargain on local turf.

From the "hardest job in marketing" file (if you'll pardon the pun)... Durex was reported this week to be launching a new kind of condom, called the Performa. Its unique selling point? It is coated with a local anaesthetic that is supposed to delay orgasm, by as much as "minutes rather than seconds", according to the Daily Mirror.

The challenges of selling such a product abound -- rather like selling anything other than "XXL" size condoms, the "last longer" condom isn't exactly an ego boost. And, because one of the common complaints from those who shun the condom is over the loss of sensitivity, conveying the fact it uses anaesthetic is also something of a challenge. Durex says it hopes for greater sales of the Performa among teenagers.

It could produce the world's tackiest mementoes, but Franklin Mint, producer of Princess Diana dolls, was the victor in a court cast this week, after it won the right to use the dead princess's likeness and name.

Now the Princess Diana Memorial Fund, created after the public outpouring of donations following her death, is left with a £4m legal bill.

However, the fund was at pains to point out that the costs would be covered by the revenues generated by the sale of licences to produce other -- presumably less tacky -- Diana memorabilia.

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