WestJet says it cancelled a Calgary to Toronto flight because passengers refused to comply with mask policy
CALGARY -- Officials with WestJet say a red-eye flight from Calgary to Toronto was cancelled early Tuesday morning after guests flying on employee travel passes refused to comply with the airline's mask rules.
But the father of the child who was not wearing a mask, says his family was unjustly targeted as his daughter is only 19 months old and falls below the age requirement for mandatory mask use.
WestJet spokesperson Lauren Stewart confirmed the nature of the cancellation in a statement to CTV News.
"Flight 652 from Calgary to Toronto was cancelled last night after guests travelling on employee travel passes chose not to comply with the Transport Canada order related to the wearing of masks on-board the aircraft for all guests 2 years and older."
In order to protect the privacy of the airline's guests, Stewart would not provide specific details regarding the matter but did cement WestJet's stance on mask use.
"WestJet recently launched a zero-tolerance mask adherence policy. Those guests travelling on employee travel privileges, including buddy passes, are held to a higher standard of behaviour on WestJet aircraft and we are disappointed that this issue ended ultimately in a flight cancellation for all guests on board. We apologize to our affected guests for this inconvenience and we have re-accommodated the majority of them on flights departing today."
Safwan Choudhry tells CTV News that it was his family that was targeted over the airline's and Transport Canada's mask policy and he says the flight crew was wrong to mandate that his youngest daughter wear a mask as she has not had her second birthday.
"Within 10 minutes, to everyone's shock, multiple police officers boarded the plane and said, 'We've been asked by the crew to formally remove you guys so either come with us or it will be handcuffs'," recounted Choudhry.
Choudry said his family received vitriol from some on board the plane while others were sympathetic.
"Some, obviously, took the anger out on us — yelled out some racial slurs, some islamophobic slurs — while the majority of the passengers were very cooperative and supportive and said, 'Be strong.'"
A video provided to CTV News by Choudhry appears to show some of the interaction with crew members on the plane, as well as him and his wife speaking to WestJet employees and a police officer.
"We spoke with the crew, OK, and we kind of resolved the mask matter, that was no longer an issue," said an unnamed Calgary police officer while on the plane. "Unfortunately, the behaviour of the rest of the passengers have left the crew feeling unsafe to fly, which is why they've made the decision they have."
In a statement sent Tuesday afternoon to CTV News, WestJet refutes Choudhry's claim.
"Our multiple accounts from crew and gate agents differ greatly from this. Our flight attendants have access to the guest manifest which specifically states which guests are under two (booked as infants) and are enforcing the policy as per the Transport Canada regulation for guests two and older," it read.
"Overwhelmingly, our guests have been doing an excellent job adhering to the directive and we thank them for their cooperation and dedication to the safety of all."
In an updated statement sent to CTV Calgary on Wednesday afternoon, WestJet says the issue was the older child not wearing a mask.
"It is important to clarify that WestJet did not request the infant under the age of two to wear a mask," it read in part.
"The travel privileges of these guests along with our employee who provided benefits will subsequently be revoked."