A WestJet flight from Calagary to Toronto was canceled Tuesday after a heated dispute about whether a toddler needed to wear a face mask led to ‘rapid escalation’ on board.
Passenger Safwan Choudhry was traveling with his wife, three year-old-daughter Zupda and nineteen-month-old daughter Zara when the mask dispute arose with flight crew and police were called to remove the family from the plane.
Choudhry claims staff were trying to force him to put a face mask on his nineteen-month-old child even though she fell under the two year age limit.
Video footage of the incident shows uncomfortable scenes as a child is heard crying and Choudhry argues with police officers at being forced to leave the plane.
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Passenger Safwan Choudhry was traveling with his wife, three year-old-daughter Zupda and nineteen-month-old daughter Zara when the mask dispute arose. He claims it was because crew wanted him to put a mask on Zara when she is under the age requirement
As the incident escalated, flight crew said they were concerned about the behavior of other passengers and uncomfortable continuing the flight, which was then canceled.
Yet WestJet has disputed the family’s claims, stating that the flight crew had been concerned about Choudhry’s three-year-old daughter who had to wear a face mask.
A spokesperson confirmed to CBC that Flight 652 was canceled Tuesday and that crew were aware of which children on the plane were under two, as it is tracked in the flight log.
‘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.
‘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.
‘Due to the rapid escalation of the situation on board, our crew felt uncomfortable to operate and the flight was subsequently cancelled,’ she added.
The airline apologized to the passengers that were affected but confirmed most of them had been transferred to another flight.
Stewart added that crew try to ‘seek an understanding of any situation that may exist’ when parents are trying to place face masks on children.
‘If parents/guardians are non-compliant or unwilling to comply with our requirement, then we will enforce our policy,’ she said.
Safwan Choudhry claims his three-year-old daughter did have a mask on but the airline disputes this
Choudry told CBC that he was disappointed with WestJet’s response and would like an apology as he continued to dispute their version of events.
He says that there was no problems with boarding the flight but that staff approached and asked him to put masks on his daughters once they were seated.
‘It started with my toddler and once we got a mask on her, they turned to my 19-month-old infant and said “every person on the plane has to wear a mask or the plane can’t take off”,’ he said.
‘We were surprised to learn our 19-month-old daughter needed to be wearing a mask.’
Choudry claims he and his wife both tried to get a mask on their youngest daughter but she screamed and eventually threw up.
‘Of course, being desperate to get home, we — despite there not being such a policy — opted to comply until she was crying hysterically, with the crew watching over us, until she threw up, at which point they told us you all need to get off the plane.
‘This crew member is just watching over her shoulder as it’s being done,’ he told Global News Canada.
‘My wife said, “Give me a few moments”, as she’d never put a mask on a child so little before and then my daughter naturally starts to panic.’
‘She said, “I’m asking you for the last time because the next time it will be police that will come here and they will arrest you and you will leave with your child”‘.
Shortly afterward, the police arrived as other passengers became involved in the dispute and began to shout.
Other passengers were angered as their flight was delayed and police arrived to try to end the dispute. Pictured, the police officer in the helmet addresses the family
The officer told the Choudry family that they had to leave the plane Tuesday morning
Some other travelers began to take video of the incident but it does not show whether Choudry’s children were wearing masks or not.
‘Bull****!’ one passenger is heard shouting. ‘The child had the mask on we all seen it.’
An officer is then heard telling Choudry ‘this isn’t going to get finished with you stuck to this chair’.
‘You need to get off the plane and let these passengers continue their journey. This is not my decision,’ he added. ‘You have not put the mask on your child when you were asked several times.’
‘How do you know that you weren’t here?’ Choudry asks.
‘We have witnesses,’ the officer replies.
The Calgary Police Department confirmed that they were called to the plane over the dispute to CBC but said they had no other comment as charges were not being filed.
Choudry said that a few minutes after the police arrived the whole plane was evacuated.
‘Within a few minutes, the captain of the flight said “for security and safety reasons, we’re evacuating everyone from the flight”,’ he said. ‘We felt awful that now this entire plane is being evacuated.’
He claims that police asked the family for ID as they were leaving the plane and alleged that it was only then that they realized the girl was under two years old.
Other passengers voiced their frustration that the mask issue led to an entire flight cancellation.
‘This was about a toddler not wearing a mask, and you felt the need to deboard the entire plane? There was a woman on the plane trying to get home to her mother on her deathbed. It was just frustrating, very, very upsetting,’ said Marian Nur.
‘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.’
Choudry thanked the other passengers in a tweet after the incident
Choiudry later tweeted about the incident and thanked the other passengers for their support.
‘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,’ he wrote.
‘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,’ he added.
He also told Calgary Herald that one of the police officers had eventually sided with the family.
‘He said, “I have never witnessed this level of abuse, harassment and just outright disrespect in Calgary at least”,’ Choudhry said.
WestJet has a zero tolerance mask policy and all passengers over two years old must cover their face in compliance with Transport Canada regulation.