Budget airline Easyjet has offered to fly the Pope to the UK for free, following controversy over the estimated £20 million cost for his visit.

In a tongue-in-cheek press release the airline said: “His Holiness will be able to check in online, take advantage of the airline’s generous hand baggage allowance, sit back and enjoy the excellent customer service from our friendly cabin crew.”

EasyJet added that the tickets would “also include free speedy boarding, to enable his Holiness to be amongst the first to board the aircraft and have a choice of seats”.

The Vatican has not responded to the carrier’s enquiries.

An EasyJet spokesman was keen to stress the offer was not intended to cause offence.

He told PinkNews.co.uk: “It is a tongue in cheek story. Realistically I don’t think the Pope will fly with us.

“It’s very much to highlight the estimated £20 million costs. It isn’t meant to cause offence.

The spokesman added that if the Pope did fly with the airline, he would offer PinkNews.co.uk exclusive interview access.

More than 7,000 people have signed a petition to protest over the estimated cost to the taxpayer for the four-day visit.