A WestJet overnight flight scheduled to fly to London Gatwick Airport from Calgary International Airport was forced to turn around an hour into the flight following reports that a flight attendant was allegedly assaulted by an “unruly” passenger.
An unfortunate flight
On 11 August, WestJet flight WS1, operated by one of the carrier’s 320-seat Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, departed after a delay of under an hour. An hour into the transatlantic flight, a male passenger reportedly physically assaulted a WestJet flight attendant.
WS1 diverted back to Calgary International Airport as a consequence, where Calgary police arrested the man in question. In a statement, the police clarified that once the flight returned to Calgary, “a man in his 50s was arrested and removed from the plane.”
The suspect, 52-year-old Mamoudou Barry, was charged with assault and failing to comply with flight attendants’ instructions. Further charges included mischief and “common nuisance endangering life”.
WestJet commented on the incident by reiterating that it has a zero-tolerance approach to any behaviour that threatens the safety and security of passengers, crews, and operations. The carrier praised its crew, stating that they are trained to manage escalating issues, therefore the situation was handled according to protocol.
The flight departed again just after 23:00 local time once the suspect was removed.
Why did this happen?
WestJet stated that the incident was one of mask non-compliance. This then led to the physical assault of the flight attendant.
Canada is one of the few countries across the globe that requires all passengers (including children aged 6 and above) to wear face masks onboard all flights. Canada’s neighbour, the United States, faced record numbers of passenger-caused disruption and violent incidents onboard its flights when its federal mask mandate was in-place. This April, the mandate was lifted in the States.
Canadian flight attendants are duty-bound to enforce the rule and this, unfortunately, puts them in uncomfortable situations in some cases. And the reason why the suspect was charged with failing to comply with a flight attendant’s instructions was because the instruction is a federal mandate.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has been firmly against Canada’s stubborn stance on mask mandates and asked the Public Health Agency of Canada to drop the requirement. This is in light of concerns for cabin crew and staff about the aggression and violence the mandate can trigger within certain air passengers onboard.
Regardless, Canada has continued to enforce the mandate and does not seem to be reconsidering it anytime soon.
Chief Operating Officer of WestJet, Diederik Pen, commented on this issue and how difficult the role of a flight attendant can be nowadays.
“Our cabin crew members show up daily to ensure the safety of our guests and operations. Over the last two years, they have been at the forefront of the pandemic, navigating a highly complex operating environment and required to enforce restrictions, such as mask compliance. As Canadians return to travel, we will never compromise on making the right decisions in support of the safety and well-being of our crews and guests.”
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