Mask usage seems to be one of the primary sources of inflight conflict nowadays. I write about these situations frequently, and a vast majority of the time it seems that the problem is with the person choosing not to wear a mask. Well, this situation may be different, as reported by CBC.
Toddler mask usage causes problems on WestJet
WestJet flight 652 was scheduled to operate as a redeye early Tuesday morning from Calgary to Toronto, and ended up being canceled altogether over a strange mask incident.
Safwan Choudhry was traveling with his wife and two young daughters — the older one was three years old, and the younger one was 19 months old. For what it’s worth, the airline claims they were traveling on employee passes, and guests traveling on those are held to a higher standard.
WestJet’s mask policy (which matches that of Transport Canada) is that everyone over the age of two has to wear a mask, with no exception. I totally recognize the struggle parents face when flying with children, because it’s not easy to convince toddlers to do something against their will.
In this situation the policy seems pretty straightforward — the older daughter should have to wear a mask, while the younger daughter shouldn’t have to wear a mask.
This is where accounts of the situation differ:
- The passenger claims the crew was trying to force the 19 month old to wear a mask, and she wasn’t able to
- The airline claims that the crew was trying to get the older daughter to wear a mask — “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”
According to Choudhry, the issue started when several crew members approached the family shortly after boarding, and said both children needed to wear masks:
“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.’ We were surprised to learn our 19-month-old daughter needed to be wearing a mask.
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 flight was operated by a 737
And then the situation escalated…
According to Choudhry, once the child vomited, the crew said that police would be called, and allegedly threatened the wife with arrest. Police then told Choudhry that the younger child would have to wear a mask.
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
At this point other passengers stood up for Choudhry, and voiced their anger. Then the captain announced that everyone would have to leave the plane “for security and safety reasons.”
Police officers asked the family for ID, and at this point realized that the young child was indeed just 19 months old, and didn’t have to wear a mask. Police allegedly spoke to the crew and said the mask issue was resolved, but at this point the crew didn’t feel safe to fly due to the behavior of the rest of the passengers.
A passenger seated near the family witnessed the entire incident, and said the following:
“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.
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.”
She said the crew was being very unreasonable, and said she felt the family may have been mistreated because of their race. She filmed the incident, and the flight attendants asked her to stop. When she refused, the crew told the police officers to ask the passenger to stop recording. The police officers responded that it wasn’t their responsibility to do that.
It sure sounds to me like the crew may have been on a power trip…
It’s hard to make sense of this situation when passengers and the airline can’t even agree on the basic facts.
It does sound like the three year old at least briefly wasn’t wearing a mask, but that was quickly resolved. What doesn’t make sense is how this situation escalated to involve the 19 month old.
All passenger witnesses I’ve heard of suggest the family was calm throughout the incident, and you can even see that in the video that’s recorded of the family talking to the police officers.
By all accounts it sounds like the WestJet crew was rude, threatening, and incapable of deescalating what should have been a simple situation. It’s bad enough that this become such a major issue, but it’s even worse when you consider that:
- The police had to be called
- The situation with other passengers got so bad that the flight had to be canceled
WestJet isn’t doing itself any favors with the information it’s sharing either — due to “privacy concerns” the airline isn’t saying much, other than claiming that the incident involved the three year old (which isn’t corroborated by the family or any other passengers).
Unfortunately since the family was traveling on employee passes, I suspect someone will still be in trouble here, since publicizing events like this when flying as part of a work benefit is frowned down upon.
What do you make of this incident?