Budget airline Flybe advertised for actors to fly between Norwich and Dublin to boost passenger numbers and avoid a £280,000 commercial penalty.
The airline took the step to avoid a penalty charge from Norwich Airport if it did not carry 15,000 passengers on the route by 31 March.
The airport criticised Flybe for pointlessly damaging the environment.
Flybe, which did not use actors in the end, blamed the airport, calling it “intransigent and greedy”.
Under the terms of the deal between the airline and the airport, the latter would impose a £280,000 penalty if Flybe did not carry 15,000 passengers on the Norwich to Dublin route during the 2007/2008 financial year.
Flybe, which is based in Exeter, was 172 passengers short with the 31 March deadline approaching and the two sides could not reach a compromise.
The airline laid on extra flights, offered 200 free return tickets, placed an advertisement on an actors’ website for “extras” and warned staff to prepare to fly to Ireland.
Norwich Airport Managing Director Richard Jenner said: “It doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of the agreement.
“But, more than anything, our concerns are about the unnecessary impact on the environment. We try here to justify the impact we have on the environment.”
A Flybe spokesman said the company regretted the “unusual” move but the “ridiculous, intransigent and downright greedy attitude” of Norwich Airport had left it with no option.
The airline said it would “offset” additional carbon emissions and had not needed to use actors to fill seats.
An offer appeared on the Flybe website on 27 March advertising “free flights to Dublin this weekend!” and offering 200 free return tickets.
Flybe also advertised on a website called StarNow which said “extras aged 16+ needed for paid work flying to Dublin”.
The advertisement said more than 100 extras were needed and would be paid more than £80 a day.
“You will be boarding an aircraft and flying to Dublin and then flying back into Norwich airport,” it read. “There may be up to three flights during each day.”