TORONTO – Two female passengers are facing multiple charges after a Sunwing Airlines flight to Cuba was escorted back to Toronto Pearson International Airport by two CF-18 fighter jets Wednesday night.
Peel Regional Police arrested 25-year-old Lilia Ratmanski from Whitby and 26-year-old Milana Muzikante from Vaughan when Sunwing Flight 656 diverted back to Toronto following a disruption on board.
In an email to Global News, a Sunwing spokesperson said the two passengers had allegedly “consumed a significant quantity of their duty-free alcohol purchase in the lavatory and lit a cigarette.”
The spokesperson also said the two allegedly triggered the smoke alarm, got into a physical altercation with each other, and made a “non-credible” threat against the plane.
Concerned over their actions, the pilot decided to return to Toronto mid-flight.
VIDEO: What caused the Sunwing flight to divert back to Toronto?
NORAD scrambled two fighter jets from Quebec to escort the plane back to Pearson. Dan Blouin, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence, suggested the estimated cost of flying one CF-18 for an hour to be $16,750 but admitted the exact amount could vary.
Major Julie Roberge, a spokeswoman for NORAD based in Colorado Springs, Colo., said the CF-18s met the aircraft at the Canadian border and did not venture into American airspace.
A statement from Sunwing said the pilots followed the “appropriate procedure” by turning back to Toronto.
Ken Pole, a contributing editor to Skies Magazine, agreed.
“What else could they have done? Not much else. They played by the rules. These women, from what I understand, got into their duty-free liquor before they got very far,” Pole said.
He suggested airlines have several options when unruly passengers disrupt a flight: they can turn back, try to intervene themselves or land at an American airport.
The second option, he said, frequently leads to legal trouble for the airline and its unlikely the plane would have been allowed to land at an American airport.
As a “goodwill gesture,” Sunwing is giving inconvenienced passengers a $15 meal voucher at Pearson Airport and a $75 voucher for future travel.
“We are very apologetic for the inconvenience experienced by our customers and thankful to our flight crew for their efforts to safely manage the situation,” said the statement from the company’s VP of marketing Janine Chapman.
Sunwing officials say the flight took off for a second time around 11 p.m. Wednesday with a new crew.
Both female passengers have been charged with smoking on board an aircraft, endangering safety of an aircraft , mischief endangering safety, and uttering threats.
-With a file from The Canadian Press