Six disabled passengers and 5 carers part of a group of 34 Russian disability campaigners were thrown off an Air Berlin flight from Moscow to Dusseldorf.
The group was traveling to Germany to take part in a series of seminars focusing on disability awareness.
"At the very last moment, after we had passed passport control and customs, and we were waiting at the gate, the pilot in command said he could not take so many wheelchair users on board out of safety considerations and suggested they should be flown out over two days, with two individuals in wheelchairs per flight," wheelchair bound Vladimir Krupennikov MP, who was traveling with the group, told the Russian News Agency Novosti.
There is no mention of restrictions in the maximum number of disabled passengers per flight on the Air Berlin website. Most airlines take a number of disabled passengers not exceeding 50% of all passengers.
Alexandra Bakir, spokesperson for Air Berlin, told Reduced Mobility Rights the airline restricts carriage of passengers with reduced mobility to maximum 4 per flights. The limit narrows to maximum 2 per flights is PRMs are unable to move about the cabin. It is unclear if the restriction also applies to disabled passengers traveling with a companion.
According to Mr Krupennikov's report, Air Berlin knew of the booking made by the large group of disabled passengers one month before the flight. "We will be claiming the air fare and moral damages," the member of the Russian Parliament (Duma) said.
"In the case of the Russian group of wheelchair users, unfortunately, Air Berlin did not receive the right information from the flight guests as required," Jana Andresen, spokesperson for Air Berlin told Reduced Mobility Rights. "Two passengers were registered and confirmed as fully immobile, and four were also registered and confirmed for wheelchair service to the ramp/stairs."
Miscommunication at the time of booking assistance for disabled passengers is one of the most common problems in the airline industry.
"At the gate it was determined that all six wheelchair users were immobile, whereupon the captain decided to follow the regulations for safety reasons and take only two immobile air berlin guests," the spokeswoman explained. "At this point, the entire group of wheelchair users decided not to fly."
Air Berlin has apologized for the problem and offered the group an alternative travel solution at no additional costs.
Reduced Mobility Rights will follow up with the German Civil Aviation Authority to understand the legitimacy of Air Berlin's restrictions.
Germany's second largest airline, low cost carrier Air Berlin operates a fleet of 142 aircraft to 163 destinations across Europe and to popular holidays destinations in North Africa, the Caribbean, USA, and South East Asia. Air Berlin is a member of One World Alliance and operates codeshare flights with British Airways.
The airline has a reputation for poor post-flight customer service. The most frequent customers' complaint concerns seriously delayed replies related to lost or damaged luggage claims. However, Air Berlin has an outstanding safety record.