WestJet Flight Canceled Over Bizarre Toddler Mask Incident

Filed Under: WestJet

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.

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…

Bottom line

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?

Comments
  1. Ben, I’ve said it before – PLEASE buy a separate domain – onemaskatatime. 40% of your content is mask related now.

    Perhaps you could do mask reviews, experiences purchasing new masks, etc.

  2. @ Andy — Would love to know more about how you arrived at the 40% figure!

    Another idea — if you don’t want to read the mask posts (which constitute significantly less than 40% of content), don’t click on posts that have the word “mask” in the headline.

  3. 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.

    No , that would be discrimination.

  4. @ D3kingg — That’s not how discrimination works. Those traveling on employee passes absolutely can have higher standards they have to adhere to. That was the case in the US for a long time, where those traveling on employee passes were subjected to a stricter dress code. That was undone a few years ago when United was in the news for that leggings situation.

  5. @Andy
    As have been said before, please comment on something other than complaining about masks.
    40% of your posts are just complaining about masks.

  6. Hard to believe the crews account when they’ve been powertripping and telling passengers to stop recording, then tried to use the police to help them powertrip, and then cancel the flight when they were the ones who made a mistake, in addition to their bad attitude. None of the third party accounts agree with their claims either.

    Hope they get disciplined for wasting everyone’s time, the airlines money and bad PR.

  7. I absolutetly support Westjet’s judgement here. Zero tolerance on everybody flying nowadays. If you are endangering the health and safety of others, you have to leave the plane. It does not care who you are, race ,religion or health conditions.

    If you are not capable in following rules, stay at home!

  8. The crew is crazy. Police declared the matter resolved and showed the flight attendants they are out of touch. Crew then got offended and decided to walk away from the flight. Fire them!

  9. Stupid rule regarding masks for toddlers. Whoever came up with that is clearly not a parent. It’s not about disciplining the child and forcing them to wear a mask. The fact is they will simply rip it off time and time again. Age should be from 6.
    I feel so sorry for this family. There is an incredible amount of hate and discrimination towards parents with young kids. I’ll be honest, I used to be the one rolling my eyes when parents and infants/toddlers boarded… until I had my own then realised just how friggin hard it is!

  10. Karen was on a power trip once again, and when she got called out for her wrongdoings cited “safety concerns” just to save her face.

  11. Mask Panic will be the thing we remember most about 2020/2021. It’s just a piece of paper on your face. Yes, it’s effective but this level of discussion, debate, passion, concern, column inches, indicates that we are in the grip of a full-scale Symbol. How does a disposable mask become the new centre of the Culture Wars?

    Never trust anyone, right-wing or left-wing, who advocates “zero tolerance”.

    Tolerance is the solution, not the problem.

  12. @Andy

    If you don’t like the content of this blog and it bothers you so much that you have commented multiple times about it then just stop reading the blog.

  13. I wouldn’t be surprised that this was occurred on WestJet flight.
    This was a def race related incident by Karen.
    Canada has a lot more KARENs than the us. Just not visible enough to outside of Canada, because of their lack of international presence.
    As an Asian went to Canada for school from the us.
    I know how it goes there.
    Their racisms are much worse than the us, they don’t even consider obvious racist stuff as bad or racist things to begin with.
    I personally experienced that some incident on my WestJet flight, that I paid for business class and when I boarded, next to my seat, there was a commuting freeloader middle aged white Karen flight attendant told the other like ” oh shit he got upgraded” I could clearly hear it.
    She wouldn’t say that to a white guy.
    I told her that I paid for it. And called for on duty flight attendant to move my seat.

    Canada is not perfect, either.
    But Canadians think it is and very proud of it. Even though Most of Canadians haven’t even been to the states or outside Canada.

    As an Asian, I really prefer to live in the states than Canada.
    However, air Canada has usually much more diversed staff.

  14. @Canuck

    Put your mask on and take several seats and stop trying to make this about race.

    As for your statement that Canadians have never been to the states or outside Canada.

    Then how do you explain this from Wikipedia?

    Percentage of passport holders in Canada

    Canada – 60 percent
    In 2017, 60% of Canadians had passports, with being about 22 million passports in circulation.

    USA – 42 percent
    According to Census and State Department data, 21.4 million passports were issued in 2017, which is the most ever. That means 42 percent of Americans hold a passport, a growth of 15 percent since 2007.

    And as an “Asian” if you enjoy living in country where the president spews rasict rhetoric on a daily basis including referring to COVID-19 as the “China Virus” then that says a lot about you.

  15. Common sense has gone totally out the window in 2020 and this story is more proof of that. A 19-month old isn’t capable of keeping a mask on, nor is it safe to require one. Furthermore, it’s exceedingly rare for children that young to have the virus let alone transmit it.

    Lastly, this virus isn’t ebola. The vast majority who contract it will be miserable for a couple of weeks and then recover. It’s around 2-3 percent who end up in the hospital now, and less than 1 percent who succumb to it (generally because they have other health conditions). Those numbers are only a little worse than the flu, for which we generally do nothing more than take a frequently ineffective vaccination. For this, we close the entire world.

  16. Again and again we see crews power tripping and calling police over incidents that could’ve been resolved with some friendly discussions… We need new standards on air crews they are not some sort of air police and can start acting rude and “enforcing” towards pax, maybe learn from Asian crews ?

  17. I was just waiting for the race card to be pulled out and they did. When race came into play the couple lost all their credibility. Total BS!!!

  18. @iv

    ((And as an “Asian” if you enjoy living in country where the president spews rasict rhetoric on a daily basis including referring to COVID-19 as the “China Virus” then that says a lot about you.))

    First of all, I’m not Chinese, not every Asian is Chinese, buddy.
    You assumed that Asian = Chinese
    Says a lot about you as well?

    Also, I’m from NoCal and no one supports Trump around here, at least people that I know.
    Not every American supports Trumpy.
    Every Canadian I met treated me like I was a Trump supporter… Isn’t that narrow minded much??
    I had to explain Everytime.
    And it maybe that I grew up in CA, I encountered a lot more discriminations in Canada than the US.
    This is at least from my point of view and experience.

    And then, the reason why Canadians got more passport than Americans is that many many more Canadians go to abroad to get a job, as in an ESL teacher than Americans. Especially right after college, I saw many Canadians around me did it.
    These Canadians can’t get a job in Canada so they go to korea, Taiwan or some place to get a below entry level job. And then they think they are like a world traveler, seriously.LOL

  19. I’d just like to say Ben, employee dress codes have been relaxed, but not removed after the United legging incident. You’re still expected to dress better, and United absolutely will sent you boarding if you’re wearing pajamas.

  20. @Canuck

    Last time I checked China is located in Asia… Buddy, where did I say Asian = Chinese? You sure seem defensive, again that says a lot about you.

    You previously stated “Canadians haven’t even been to the states or outside Canada”. Now you state “Canadians got more passport than Americans is that many many more Canadians go to abroad to get a job”….. So when these many many Canadians travelling abroad for a job doesn’t that mean these many many Canadians are outside Canada? – Clearly you contradicted yourself.

    And stop making generalizations Canadians do not think ALL Americans are Trumpanzees.

    Nice try – try harder.

  21. Without getting into any issues of race etc, it seems to me that if the youngest child was 19 months then there would no requirement to wear a mask according to their policy. Why was the flight attendant then trying to enforce something that is against their policy? It should never have escalated to the point that it did.

  22. I love Ben’s articles and videos about travel, he’s the first site I look at every day. I will always follow him no matter how left wing his political views on HIS site gets. I will have to say it is nice not to even come across these articles at TPG, LTE, and Sam Chui that I follow as well. I think Ben’s lack of travel has forced him to reach out for anything that has the word plane or aircraft in it. Some things don’t seem travel related just because it took place on an aircraft. Why not do an article about a flight cancellation due to an over temp light on #1 engine start up and they had to return to the gate and kick everyone off?, seems just as relevant as a mask article.

  23. It is quite telling when the police has to tell the flight attendants that its not their responsibility to tell people not to record. Police= law enforcement, not private company policy or personal wishes enforcement.

  24. Airline passengers have no rights, either do what the airline employees tell you or find another airline or travel provider to travel on.
    Does that suck? Sure. But so much time wasting and anger and frustration. Find another way to travel period.

  25. @iv

    Yes, and unlike Ebola (which has a fatality rate of 50%), the actual fatality rate in the US is now reported as less than 1 percent. There’s way too much hyperventilation about this – it’s a respiratory infection that can be serious for elderly and Immunol suppressed individuals. Pretty much everyone else will recover after spending a couple of weeks being miserable. If you don’t, you’ll end up on the national news to scare everyone else.

    We have a total loss of perspective when it comes to COVID. No, millions won’t die. And even the official death toll number is being questioned, as it’s being discovered that many of those deaths were from something else other than COVID (but they tested positive). In other words, we’ve had influenza outbreaks with comparable contagion and never shut down an entire world economy.

  26. @Santastico – the family played the race card? Really?

    Good thing you are trapped behind a keyboard and therefore, of no real threat.

  27. West Jet, another loser airline on the verge of bankruptcy. On another post there was a passenger who left a nasty note to flight attendant on American Air and we all thought it was rude and wondered why they would do that. Well, the above post is why passengers would be motivated to leave nasty notes to flight crews like in the American Airline story posted days ago.

  28. Iv = pathetic Canadian trolling and doing every Nit picking on us based services.
    Go do the same on Canada based services or blogs. Waitz there’s none.
    Have some inedibles Tim freaking Hortons and call a day, dummy.
    If you don’t like America, go away!
    I’m sure you can find a nice Canadian yahoo forums or whatever you guys use that more suitable for ya.

  29. Eh? Where’s the evidence for masks in kids so young? Not required until age 7 is what most countries are doing.

  30. @ Alan- I’ll do you one better- where’s the evidence on masks for anyone? Even the CDC’s July press release on masks relies primarily on an anecdote of two Missouri hairstylists not spreading the virus to their clients, though one still gave it to the other! Plus, see the study that came out just yesterday (van den Broek-Altenburg et al. 2020). Here’s the key results: “Occupation, living in apartment versus a house, and wearing a facial mask outside work increased probability of COVID-19 infection.”

  31. What a bunch of devolved morons arguing about this.

    IV is correct and an awful lot of you lot need therapy to deal with your rage, or, learn how to vote appropriately. i.e. not for narcissistic autocratic cheats and thieves.

    30-

  32. The “Bones Spurs Are Us” retail chain will be the next big thing according to a number of folks in this crowd…

  33. Don’t fall for it . Canuck and a few others are the 50 cent army from China paid to post here. There is a concerted effort by dictator for life chairman Winnie xi to attack Canada and Australia right now. The give away is the atrocious grammar and incoherent writing from Canuck who claims he grew up in California and went to school in Canada yet wrights like a 2 month English as a second language student. Notice he didn’t comment on the airline but on racism. He earned his 50 cents made comrade Xi proud.

  34. Ah, good old USA, never stops giving me a good laugh. Love how a country that love it’s image as tough and independent has become so fragile and scared of everything. Why this need to call the cops all the time? You don’t need to defund the police, you just need to stop calling them for any minor issue that grown ups should handle on their own.

  35. @mh if you are referring to passengers travelling on passes being held to a higher standard as discriminatory then you are incorrect. I grew up as an airline brat and have worked in and around aviation my whole life. When you travel on a pass you are representing the airline who’s passes you are using and expected to behave accordingly. Same if you are at a work function you are expected to behave as though you are representing your company.

    There are two very different versions of this story and as I was not present I cannot comment on what is right or wrong.

    @canuck if such dislike for Canadians and Canada why the screen name Canuck?

  36. @Dennis are you actually being serious? So if your kid throws a tantrum and starts ripping off his mask repetitively, you just go with it? You should teach your kid some basic manners before you start throwing proposals for rule changes. Focus on being a parent and not a wannabe-regulator.

  37. @BigG – If you’re going to give lessons on “grammar and incoherent writing,” you should know that the word “writes” as in “writing,” is not spelled “wrights.” And “giveaway” is one word.

    Everyone Else – Of course, a higher standard for passrider dress is discrimination, but the real question is whether it constitutes invidious (unfair) discrimination, and it most assuredly does not. Airlines cannot allow themselves to be embarrassed by passriding employees or their kith and kin being poorly or slovenly dressed–’nuff said!

  38. This was a child less than 2 years old, not exactly at an age in which they can be taught “reason.” Wearing a mask for any length of time is very uncomfortable. A 19 month old doesn’t understand the “why.” They just know it’s something making them feel very bad and they want it off.

    The question is what is the risk to the child and the risk to others of not having a mask on? At least from what I understand it’s near nil.

    Unfortunately passengers and airline workers aren’t all blessed with common sense and reasoning. Not to mention increasingly the greater population at large.

    And this comes from someone that cringes anytime I see a small child/baby around me.

  39. When will other passengers learn to stay the hell out of something that is none of their business. Seems like these situations are always escalated and made worse by other passengers who have nothing to do with the situation trying to interject themselves.

  40. “The question is what is the risk to the child and the risk to others of not having a mask on? At least from what I understand it’s near nil.” The risk to others being nil doesn’t appear to be accurate at all per a study from Harvard. In fact some children have been shown to have even higher levels of COVID than adults. The reasons masks are not used for children under 2 is its not safe for children that young

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