The domestic flight from Calgary to Toronto was canceled “following an issue of non-compliance,” and the family “refusing” to deplane, a WestJet spokeswoman said in a statement.
“Due to the rapid escalation of the situation on board, our crew felt uncomfortable to operate and the flight was subsequently canceled,” the spokeswoman added.
The family in question — 31-year-old Canadian Safwan Choudhry, his wife Marium Choudhry, and their three-year-old and 19-month-old daughters — were traveling home to Toronto after visiting relatives in Calgary, Safwan Choudhry said in an interview with CNN.
Choudhry told CNN that the incident unfolded very quickly and “was the most embarrassing thing we have gone through.”
WestJet denies that it asked the younger child to wear a mask.
In a statement issued to CNN in response to the family’s allegations, the spokeswoman said: “Transport Canada’s interim order does not require infants under the age of two to wear a mask but does require any child over the age of two to wear one. It is important to clarify that WestJet did not request the infant under the age of two to wear a mask.”
Safwan Choudhry says this photo he took aboard the flight shows his three-year-old daughter wearing a mask.
Courtesy Safwan Choudhry
Desperate to get home
The couple agreed to comply, Choudhry said. But after asking the crew attendant to give them a couple of minutes to distract the children — the younger of whom, he said, was “crying hysterically,” in order to put the masks on, he said the airline called the police who subsequently boarded the plane.
“We were desperate enough that we just wanted to get home, so said ‘we’ll comply with anything you want.’ At the time we didn’t even know there was such a policy (exempting children under the age of two.) We were fully doing our best to comply — she just was not having it, I kept trying to keep the mask on her face,” Choudhry said, referring to his younger daughter.
“A 19-month-old doesn’t understand anything — other than that this thing, this object, is being placed on their mouth and nose obstructing their airways and they can feel claustrophobic very quickly.”
The elder child, meanwhile, complied, as she was more used to wearing a mask, he said.
Video footage taken by Choudhry and seen by CNN appears to show the three-year-old wearing a mask while on board the plane.
The pilot then asked passengers to disembark, Choudhry said. The flight was delayed and later canceled.
‘Most embarrassing thing’
While some passengers were angry with the family, Choudhry said, the vast majority supported them.
“People were coming up to us and saying ‘here, take my telephone number’ and exchanging numbers with us, saying ‘look, I’ve caught the whole thing on camera — we have lots of pictures and videos’ — and we have contact details for multiple passengers who have actually still kept in touch with us,” he said.
The family, who had been due to get back to Toronto on Wednesday, arrived home on Thursday after taking a flight with a different airline.
Choudhry said he has had no contact from WestJet except for one call from a staff member investigating the incident.
“This is definitely the most embarrassing thing we have ever gone through. It feels very dehumanizing — both my wife and I are professionals and know how to conduct ourselves in public,” he said.
In a statement, WestJet apologized for the interruption to passengers’ travel plans but said it was “committed to the highest safety standard and is obligated to adhere to Transport Canada’s regulations.”
The spokeswoman added that “since September 1, 2020 WestJet has been enforcing our zero-tolerance mask policy and we appreciate the support and cooperation of our guests and employees who continue to adhere to the regulations.”