A Canadian family says WestJet Airlines ejected them from a flight after they were unable to place a mask on their 19-month-old daughter’s face, even though the airline’s policy states children under the age of two are exempt from wearing face coverings. The September 8 flight from Calgary to Toronto was ultimately canceled.
Passenger Safwan Choudhry said crew members told him and his wife that the plane could not take off until both of their daughters were wearing masks. Choudhry wrote on Twitter that while his three-year-old daughter wore her mask, the younger child “was hysterical” when they tried to place the face-covering on her.
A WestJet spokesperson, Lauren Stewart, has disputed Choudhry’s account. She told CBC News the airline crew was concerned only with the older child. “WestJet would like to clarify that there were two children, and we were not requiring the infant to wear a mask.” Heavy has reached out to WestJet via email for further comment.
Here’s what you need to know:
Safwan Choudhry Said a Flight Crew Member Threatened to Have Them Arrested
Earlier today my family endure the most horrific & dehumanizing treatment onboard @WestJet plane. My wife was threatening to be arrested & forcibly removed unless my daughters, 3 yrs & 19 months would wear a mask. While my 3yrs wore her mask, the 19 months old was hysterical. pic.twitter.com/MHnaTnKgCU
— Safwan Choudhry (@SafwanChoudhry) September 9, 2020
Choudhry, along with his wife and two young daughters, planned to fly home to Toronto on a red-eye flight on September 8. His three-year-old daughter was eating a snack when crew members advised the family that the child needed to put her mask on, the BBC reported.
Choudhry told the Calgary Herald that after his wife managed to put the face-covering on the older child, the crew then said the younger girl needed to wear a mask as well. “We just wanted to get home, this is the last flight so we will comply with whatever they tell us to do.”
Choudhry explained that his 19-month-old daughter had “never had anything obstruct her nose or mouth” and struggled against the face-covering. He added that he also attempted to hold the mask against his daughter’s face. But the toddler was terrified and eventually vomited into the mask. In a separate interview with Global News, Choudhry said one of the crew members threatened to have them arrested as he and his wife continued to struggle with their younger daughter.
According to the BBC, WestJet denies that the older child put on a mask. The network also reported that one of the police officers disputed this and confirmed the older girl did have her mask on when officers arrived.
WestJet Canceled the Flight After the Choudhrys Were Escorted Off the Plane
Calgary Police officers eventually arrived to escort the family off the plane. Another passenger recorded part of the interaction and the video was shared on social media. In the clip, the toddler can be heard screaming as other passengers expressed displeasure with the situation.
The flight captain eventually instructed everyone to evacuate the plane, citing “safety and security reasons,” according to the CBC. Choudhry told the Calgary Herald that once they were back inside the airport, the officers looked at their paperwork and confirmed the younger child was under two. “The situation immediately after that took a completely different course because the police who they had called to arrest us was now questioning the WestJet crew and other passengers gathered.”
WestJet flight cancelled after dispute over whether 19-month-old passenger should wear mask. "I was so shocked, the parents never raised their voices, they never got angry with the attendants, they were just trying to reason with them," said a witness.https://t.co/nUQbbPyO2s pic.twitter.com/168UopjT1D
— Andree Lau (@alau2) September 9, 2020
The airline ultimately decided against allowing the passengers back on the plane and the flight was canceled. WestJet spokesperson Lauren Stewart explained to the CBC, “Due to the rapid escalation of the situation on board, our crew felt uncomfortable to operate and the flight was subsequently cancelled.”
Choudhry wrote about the reactions his family endured from other passengers during the ordeal: “While the sudden shocking decision by @WestJet to cancel the entire fight moments before take-off caused some passengers to hurl racist & Islamophobic remarks at my family, we are incredibly grateful and humbled by the overwhelming support & love from a majority of the passengers. We wish to extend our sincere regards & prayers for the passengers who had to endure any form of discomfort & hardship, we’re glad to learn that most passengers have made it to their destination. We are dearly touched by all messages from various passengers throughout the day.”
We wish to extend our sincere regards & prayers for the passengers who had to endure any form of discomfort & hardship, we're glad to learn that most passengers have made it to their destination. We are dearly touched by all messages from various passengers throughout the day.
— Safwan Choudhry (@SafwanChoudhry) September 9, 2020
The Airline Said the Flight Was Canceled Because Guests ‘Chose Not to Comply’ With the Mask Mandate
WestJet Airlines insists the flight was canceled because guests refused to abide by the mask order, Global News reported. Stewart further explained in a prepared statement to the TV station: “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.”
Masks are required on all flights in Canada, according to the government’s transportation department, to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. But as the agency noted on its website, there are exceptions: “Children under two years of age and those with underlying medical conditions may not be able to wear a non-medical mask or face covering, and there are times when travellers will need to show their face for safety or security reasons such as during identity verification check before boarding a plane, or at Canada customs when entering the country.”
Update: While my family and I remain stranded in Calgary seeking answers, explanation and/or an update, we are just learning from @CBCNews that @WestJet has instead opted to ban my family from flying with the airline. https://t.co/nUBePFXREM
— Safwan Choudhry (@SafwanChoudhry) September 10, 2020
WestJet has also implemented a zero-tolerance policy on masks. Passengers who refuse to wear face coverings may be banned from flying on WestJet aircraft for one year. The company’s policy includes that the rule applies to children over the age of two. Choudhry wrote on Twitter that on September 10, he learned that WestJet had banned his family from future flights.