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.
Choudhry said he was disappointed in the airline’s response, and would like an apology.
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 airline said in the update that it would revoke those travel privileges both for the Choudhry family and the WestJet employee who provided the benefits.
Stewart said parents and guardians are informed of the mask requirement and that staff try to “seek an understanding of any situation that may exist.”
“If parents/guardians are non-compliant or unwilling to comply with our requirement, then we will enforce our policy,” she said.