The German Civil Aviation Authority, Luftfahrt-Bundesamt, is to examine the events leading to a group of six disabled passengers being thrown off an Air Berlin flight.
Pressure is mounting on Air Berlin following last Monday's incident at Moscow Domodedovo involving a group of disabled passengers and their carers.
Officials with the Air Passenger Rights complaint body at the German Federal Aviation Office (LBA) told Reduced Mobility Rights on Tuesday they are in the process of reviewing the incident involving a group of six disabled passengers denied boarding an Air Berlin flight from Moscow to Dusseldorf.
The group of six disabled passengers had already boarded the Air Berlin flight when the captain told they had to get off the flight, stating Air Berlin's internal safety regulations allowed to take maximum 2 wheelchair users per flight.
The disabled passengers, part of a group of 34 disability campaigners traveling to Germany to attend a number of disability awareness seminars, argued they had properly notified the airline since August. However, the captain stood firm on his request, at which point the six disabled passengers and five carers got off the Air Berlin aircraft.
In their official statement, Air Berlin stopped short of blaming the disabled passengers for the incident. "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 on Monday. "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 rule Air Berlin mentioned in their statement is not available on the airline's website. The only vague reference to possible restrictions on the number of disabled passengers per flight states that "airberlin may limit the number of persons with reduced mobility carried on each flight."
Some low cost airlines like Ryanair and Australian Jetstar impose strict limits on the maximum number of disabled passengers per flight.
While Ryanair explains the limit exists for safety reasons, Jetstar is not shy in admitting that the limit exists to balance care for passengers requiring assistance with the fast turnaround needs of a low-fares airline. The term turnaround indicates the time needed by ground handlers for loading, unloading, and servicing an aircraft between flights.
European law states that EU carriers may impose such limits only to comply with National, International or the country of certification's safety requirements. European legislation (Commission Regulation 859/2008) sets rules for the maximum number of PRM per flight at 50% of the total number of passengers.
Ryanair can legally bypass EU rule since its limit of maximum 4 disabled passengers per flight is set within its certification document. The German LBA is to investigate if this is also the case with Air Berlin.
It is a fact Air Berlin cannot impose such restrictions on its flights from and to the United States of America. The US Department of Transportation has a reputation of issuing hefty fines on air carriers breaching disabled passengers' rights.
One of the disabled passengers, wheelchair bound Vladimir Krupennikov MP, said the group is planning to sue Air Berlin for discriminating against the disabled.
The group managed to reach Germany with an Aeroflot flight. The Russian carrier did not impose any restriction on the disabled passengers.