WestJet flight from Calgary to Toronto grounded over mandatory mask dispute involving children

A red-eye flight from Calgary to Toronto was cancelled early Tuesday morning after a dispute over mandatory masks.

Safwan Choudhry contacted Global News after he said his family was unfairly targeted by Calgary-based airline WestJet.

“We were just looking to go back home like most people after the long weekend,” Choudry said.

Choudhry said his family boarded with no problem, but once they were seated, a flight crew member approached his wife and said: “Your child needs to wear a mask.”

Read more: 2 people who refused to wear masks on flights face $1,000 fines from Transport Canada

The family said they put a mask on their three-year-old daughter, who was not wearing one, but struggled to put one on their screaming 19-month-old.

“This crew member is just watching over her shoulder as it’s being done,” he said. “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.”

Choudhry said that’s when everything escalated.

“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,’” he said.

Calgary police officers did arrive but told Global News they were only there as backup and no charges were laid.

The family questioned why police were called in the first place since their 19-month-old is exempt from the COVID-19 mask rules and they said their three-year-old eventually put on a mask.

Watch: Wear masks on WestJet or face year-long no-fly restriction

WestJet wouldn’t confirm to Global News which one of the children did not have a mask on, citing privacy reasons. But officials did confirm Flight 652 from Calgary to Toronto was cancelled after guests “chose not to comply with the Transport Canada order related to the wearing of masks on-board the aircraft for all guests two and older.”

Spokesperson Lauren Stewart added in a statement: “Our flight attendants have access to the guest manifest, which specifically states which guests are under two (booked as infants) and are enforcing the policy as per the Transport Canada regulation for guests two and older.

“Overwhelmingly, our guests have been doing an excellent job adhering to the directive and we thank them for their co-operation and dedication to the safety of all.”

WestJet said it understands it can be difficult for young children to keep their masks on, and staff are trained to deal with it. However, it also said if parents or guardians are non-compliant or unwilling comply with their requirements, then the policy will be enforced.

Father is livid over mask dispute that forced the cancellation of a WestJet flight.
Father is livid over mask dispute that forced the cancellation of a WestJet flight. Courtesy: Safwan Choudhry

The family is angry it came to this and upset the entire flight was cancelled, leaving them and other passengers stranded.

“The entire flight has a mixed reaction,” Choudhry said.

“Obviously, there [are] people upset with us that we caused this to happen, and there are people who are standing up for us and saying, ‘I’d rather have this flight cancelled and to put up with this.’”

As of Tuesday night, the family was still in Calgary looking for another flight home.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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