Ryanair gives Alitalia the finger

A Ryanair airliner flies through storm clouds as it departs from Malta International Airport outside Valletta January 23, 2008. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

ROME (Reuters) - Italy has accused Ryanair of employing a “vulgar and offensive” ad against rival airline Alitalia that made it look as if an Italian cabinet minister was giving passengers the finger.

The ad used a now-infamous photo of Reforms Minister Umberto Bossi, who made headlines this week for using the obscene gesture in public.

“Minister Bossi to Italian passengers,” the add begins, as if Bossi were addressing them.

“The Government ... supports Alitalia’s high fares, supports Alitalia’s frequent strikes, doesn’t give a damn about Italian passengers”.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government, which is working on a rescue plan to save state-controlled Alitalia from bankruptcy, was indignant. Officials demanded an apology from the Irish airline, Europe’s biggest budget carrier.

“This airline that operates at our airports and in our skies should apologise -- not just to Minister Bossi but to the Italians,” said Transport Minister Altero Matteoli.

The sudden support was a twist for Bossi, a fiery politician known for his separatist rhetoric who was condemned by friends and foes alike earlier this week for making the gesture to criticise Italy’s national anthem.

Ryanair, which competes with Alitalia in Italy, is known for making stinging attacks on Alitalia and even once painted “Arrivederci Alitalia” on one of its planes.

The Ryanair advertisement can be viewed at:

Writing by Phil Stewart