A Westjet flight from Calgary to London Gatwick Airport was forced to turn back and make an unscheduled stop an hour into the overnight flight after a flight attendant was allegedly assaulted by an unruly middle-aged male passenger. The cause of the incident is said to be a disagreement over face mask compliance.
Unlike a growing list of countries, Canada continues to insist that all passengers, including children as young as six years old, continue to wear a face mask on all flights because they are the most “basic, visible, and low-cost measure for reducing transmission of COVID-19”.
Canadian flight attendants also continue to vigorously enforce the rules which can, at times, pit aircrew against vocal and sometimes ill-tempered mask refusniks. Earlier this year, a poll suggested the vast majority of Canadians still supported widespread mask usage, although support for masking was lowest in Alberta.
Mask rules have been lifted in nearly all other public settings, including most other forms of public transport, but airline passengers and staff are expected to wear a mask in airport terminals and on planes.
Calgary Police say Westjet flight WS1 to London Gatwick Airport was forced to turn back to YYC Calgary International Airport just an hour into the eight and a half-hour transatlantic flight on Wednesday evening after a member of aircrew was assaulted by a passenger.
“Upon returning to Calgary, a man in his 50s, was arrested and removed from the plane,” the police said in a statement.
Mamoudou Barry, aged 52, has since been charged with assault and failing to comply with crew member instructions, as well as a slew of other offences including mischief over $5,000 and common nuisance endangering life.
A spokesperson for Westjet confirmed the incident started over face mask non-compliance. “Our cabin crew members show up daily to ensure the safety of our guests and operations,” Westjet’s chief operating officer Diederik Pen said in a statement.
“Over the last two years, they have been at the forefront of the pandemic, navigating an extremely complex operating environment and required to enforce restrictions, such as mask compliance.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), an international airline trade association which represents WestJet, has become increasingly annoyed with Canada’s stance on in-flight mask rules, imploring the Public Health Agency of Canada to drop the requirement.
Peter Cerda, IATA’s Regional Vice President for the Americas slammed the Canadian government for making the country a “total outlier in managing COVID-19 and travel”. Rather than reducing pandemic-era bureaucracy, Canada has been “throwing more red tape at the pandemic,” Cerda blasted last month.
Canada has, however, ignored those concerns and instead reimposed mandatory random COVID testing for international travellers who arrive by air. Bizarrely, the rules do not apply to anyone who enters Canada via a road or sea crossing.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.