WestJet Cancels Flight After “Crew Felt Uncomfortable To Operate” Following Toddler Mask Incident

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WestJet is in the news for the wrong reasons again after one of their crews caused an entire flight to be cancelled as a dispute arose over a toddler wearing a face mask on a domestic flight from Calgary to Toronto.

Following the incident with the family that traveled with their 19-month and 3 year old daughters the police actually cleared the situation but the crew “felt uncomfortable with the situation on board” and refused to work the flight.

I feel this is a story out of bizarroworld because it really borders on the fantastic considering all the elements involved in this way over the top reaction.

The CBC reported that the family with two young girls was booked on a domestic flight from Calgary YYC to Toronto YYZ and that there was a dispute over the girls wearing masks on the flight, causing WestJet to call the police on them.

WestJet says it cancelled a flight from Calgary to Toronto early Tuesday when tensions on board rapidly escalated after a family refused to obey a rule that all passengers over the age of two wear masks.

Passenger Safwan Choudhry says airline staff were trying to force his 19-month-old daughter to wear a mask even though she isn’t required to at that age. But WestJet says it was his older, three-year-old daughter, who was of concern.

A WestJet spokesperson confirmed that Flight 652 was cancelled, adding flight crew have access to a guest manifest that specifically states which guests are under age two, as they are booked as infants.

Choudhry said his family complied with regulations. His younger daughter was identified as an infant on her boarding pass, and his older daughter was wearing a mask.

But WestJet said the accounts from the crew and airline agents differ from Choudhry’s.

“WestJet would like to clarify that there were two children, and we were not requiring the infant to wear a mask, but did require the other child, who is over age two, to wear one,” WestJet spokesperson Lauren Stewart said in an email.

WestJet has a zero-tolerance mask adherence policy, the airline said, to comply with a Transport Canada regulation making it mandatory for all travellers aged two and over to wear protective face coverings while on flights.

In an updated statement provided Wednesday, WestJet clarified the reason for the flight cancellation, stating again that its staff were asking the parents to mask the older child.

“Our crew requested the presence of the authorities after the guests refused to comply with Transport Canada’s interim order and subsequently refused to deplane the aircraft,” the airline said in the update.

“Due to the rapid escalation of the situation on board, our crew felt uncomfortable to operate and the flight was subsequently cancelled.”

Stewart apologized to guests affected by the cancelled flight, and said the airline found flights for most of them.

“We are disappointed that this issue ended ultimately in a flight cancellation for all guests on board,” Stewart said.

WestJet said the family was travelling on employee travel passes and said those guests are held to a higher standard of behaviour. …

The source of the families tickets shouldn’t even play any role in this situation. The airline could have simply taken them off the flight and that would have been the end of it if the passengers really violated the rules of employee travel benefits. It shouldn’t result in a situation where the crew walks away from the flight.

This policy by the Canadian Government (Transport Canada) doesn’t make sense and is way over the top.

All air travellers, with few exceptions, are required to wear a non-medical mask or face covering while travelling.

In all other modes, operators may require travellers to wear a non-medical mask or face covering whenever possible, especially when interacting with others, and when they cannot maintain a distance of 2 metres.

The following people should not wear a mask:

  • children under 2 years old
  • people who have trouble breathing
  • people who need help to remove a mask
  • people who provide a medical certificate certifying that they are unable to wear a face mask for a medical reason

Having a rule in place that is trying to force a mask or any object on very young children over TWO years of age simply doesn’t make sense. Anyone who ever had to take of children or remembers their younger siblings and cousins knows that it’s next to impossible to accomplish even menial things like getting the child to wear a bib or wear clothes properly.

Besides the point that I feel WestJet and their crew is lying in this case and starts making excuses which can be rebutted by the police officers that responded to the scene as well as video material.

The CBC article recounts the passengers version of events:

… “It started with my toddler and once we got a mask on her, they turned to my 19-month-old infant and said ‘every person on the plane has to wear a mask or the plane can’t take off,'” he said.

“We were surprised to learn our 19-month-old daughter needed to be wearing a mask,” he said, adding that he didn’t realize until later that the child wasn’t required to wear a mask under Transport Canada rules.

He said he and his wife tried to force a mask onto their youngest daughter’s face, to no avail.

“Of course, being desperate to get home, we — despite there not being such a policy — opted to comply until she was crying hysterically, with the crew watching over us, until she threw up, at which point they told us you all need to get off the plane.”

Choudhry said after the child vomited, a flight attendant told him police would be called and threatened his wife with arrest.

A few minutes later, police arrived and said the child would need to wear a mask or the family would be removed from the plane. Choudhry said at this point, other passengers stood up to voice their anger at the situation.

The Calgary Police Service confirmed officers were called for reports of a dispute and to maintain the peace. The force said it wouldn’t comment further as no criminal charges were pending, referring questions back to WestJet.

Choudhry shared a video with CBC News that shows masked police officers speaking to passengers on the plane, and frustrated passengers can be heard shouting as a child cries. Another video shows police standing in the aisle, his older daughter wearing a mask and sitting with his wife, and his younger daughter sitting with him, unmasked.

“As you can see in the video, my three-year-old is already wearing a mask and is calmly watching cartoons,” he said.

“Within a few minutes, the captain of the flight said ‘for security and safety reasons, we’re evacuating everyone from the flight,” he said. “We felt awful that now this entire plane is being evacuated.”

Choudhry said after the plane was evacuated, officers asked for each family member’s ID — which is when police realized that the child was under two, he said.

In another video provided by Choudhry, a police officer tells him that police have spoken with the crew and resolved the mask issue, but that the behaviour of the rest of the passengers left the crew feeling unsafe to fly.

It’s very obvious that the WestJet cabin crew deserves all the blame here for escalating the situation to something that ended up spiraling out of control. Totally unprofessional and unacceptable as another snipped from the article proves:

… Another passenger, Marian Nur, witnessed the entire interaction.

She said at no point did Choudhry or his wife raise their voices while interacting with flight attendants, and that she saw the family doing their best to comply with instructions. …

Nur said she felt the family was potentially being mistreated because of their race, so she started recording the incident on her phone. She said a flight attendant first asked her to stop recording, then asked police to make Nur stop recording when she refused — police told the flight attendant it was not their responsibility to stop Nur from filming.

“This was about a toddler not wearing a mask, and you felt the need to deboard the entire plane? There was a woman on the plane trying to get home to her mother on her deathbed. It was just frustrating, very, very upsetting,” Nur said.

I said it before many times and I’ll say it again: Airline staff frequently tries to have law enforcement deal with customer service issues, often situations that were arising due to the misconduct of the staff themselves. As the officer in this case stated as well, that’s not the responsibility of a law enforcement officer as long as the passenger isn’t breaking any laws.

Here is a video from the flight uploaded on the Twitter account of the passenger, Mr Choudry:

Bottom line is that it’s very obvious WestJet staff is piling up one lie after the other to cover up their unprofessional actions in this situation. It also shows that this entire mask enforcement by flight attendants isn’t a workable situation because they aren’t trained to be enforcement officers and neither are they legally obligated to tell the truth.

To the contrary, airline staff often makes up the truth conveniently as they see fit and being able to write passengers up for “airline ban lists” without proper checks and balances in place is even emboldening such actions. There are certainly cases where it’s warranted but at the same time there are situations where staff feels offended because a customer is talking back to them (as if they were some sort of a higher authority) and then they want to punish the passenger.

Having a government policy in place that says “any child over 2 must wear a mask” is also contributing to the insanity. Children aren’t being deliberately belligerent or making some sort of political stand against wearing face masks, they simply don’t want to wear them and swipe them off, cry or cause a ruckus. While there is certainly an age where as a parent you should expect a child to be compliant (good luck) TWO is definitely not the age where this will work. Try five or six!

Conclusion

The WestJet crew is fully at fault here for escalating the situation, misusing law enforcement to push their own narrative of the incident and making up their own facts of what happened as collaborated by statements of police, video material (which the crew tried to suppress) and other witnesses. The law enforcement officers were extremely professional here and didn’t buy into the crews nonsense.

The fact that crew can simply walk away from the flight with impunity saying “we no longer feel comfortable” making up another bogus story is ridiculous. There should be consequences for such actions such as suspension from employment and/or fines.

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