WATCH: Two Toronto-area women face multiple charges, after a ruckus on a Sunwing flight bound for Cuba, that had to turn back with a military escort. Vassy Kapelos reports.
TORONTO –Flight diversions have made headlines for a number of reasons as of late: From smoking in the bathroom, to fighting caused by a gadget that prevents the person in front of you from reclining, to intoxicated rants involving pelvis thrusting and/or chewing through restraints.
The latest incident started with two twentysomethings en route to Cuba drunkenly smoking in the bathroom, and escalated to a physical altercation and “non-credible” threat; it ended in a diversion back to Toronto flanked by two CF-18 fighter jets. National Defence estimated the total operating cost of one CF-18 at $16,750 per hour, which means at least $33,500 of taxpayer money was spent Wednesday evening.
Unruly passenger incidents are an “escalating problem,” occurring over 28,000 times between 2007-2013, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
“Due to loopholes in existing laws, there are many cases where those who commit serious offenses are not punished,” said the IATA website section on unruly passengers.
The organization cautioned that current regulations are “inadequate to deal with the scale of today’s problems,” and said flight diversions could cost airlines up to US$200,000.
But IATA is working with the International Civial Aviation Organization (ICAO) to improve regulations, and build upon the 50-year-old Tokyo Convention that currently governs offences that happen during flights.
Adopted on April 4, 2014, the Montreal Protocol will impact two main areas: jurisdiction—making it possible to extend the jurisdiction over offence to the destination country of the flight as well as the country of aircraft registration—and right of recourse—providing more clarity on the airline’s right to reclaim the costs incurred.
“This closes a loophole which allowed many serious offences to escape legal action,” said IATA.
But the protocol has not yet been ratified by any States, and needs 22 States’ approval before it comes into force.
Currently, the worst consequences for a flight passenger so unruly the plane must be diverted off its path is a fine of $100,000 or five years of jail time under the Aeronautics Act.
But looking back at similar incidents, it appears unlikely that anyone pays the maximum price.
I’ll “send your genitals to your mother”
An Air Transat flight from Vancouver to the United Kingdom on March 27, 2013 had to make an emergency landing in Iqaluit, Nunvaut after a 39-year-old man had to be restrained by flight crew and passengers.
Drunk and unruly, Darren Cosby punched a coffee maker, “jokingly” grabbed a flight attendant by the throat, and spit on those trying to restrain him, according to Crown prosecutor Amy Porteous. He was able to get out of plastic wrist restraints twice, bent back the thumb of someone trying to restrain him and tried to bite those holding him back.
He said he would “slit their throats,” and “send their genitals to their mothers,” and thrust his pelvis at flight attendants, according to courtroom proceedings reported by the Nunavut’s Nunatsiaq Online.
Cosby was arrested when the flight landed, and the plane continued to the U.K.
Charges of uttering threats, causing a disturbance and mischief, were stayed April 4. He pleaded guilty to one count of unruly behaviour under the Aeronautics Act and was given credit for nine days spent in jail. Cosby was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine and reimburse Air Transat for approximately $13,875, according to the report.
Smoking charges dropped, $500 for other offences
A flight diversion to Bermuda that cost Sunwing approximately $40,000 in February 2013 was caused by a Cape Breton, N.S. family who allegedly smoked in the bathroom and became unruly.
Daryl McWilliams of the Sunwing Travel Group says the plane was flying from Halifax to the Dominican Republic and was forced to make an emergency landing, then put up 180 passengers overnight and bring in a mechanic. The plane resumed its flight the next morning.
Three members of a four-person family were arrested by the Bermuda police and appeared in Magistrates’ Court in Hamilton, Bermuda. The father pleaded guilty to behaving in a disorderly manner by using abusive and offensive language, and the mother pleaded guilty to disobeying a lawful order by a flight attendant.
The Crown elected to offer no evidence on the smoking (which the defendants denied), and the smoking charges were dropped. Senior Magistrate Archibald Warner fined David MacNeil Sr. and Donna MacNeil $500 each for their offences, ordering that the fines be paid immediately or they would spend up to 10 days in prison.
When asked if Sunwing was suing the family for a reported $50,000 in lost costs, the airline confirmed Thursday it has served a Statement of Claim against the MacNeil family in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Spokesperson Rachel Goldrick said the “matter is proceeding through the normal court process.”
Party in the lavatory with a grinding pelvis?
An intoxicated Calgary man caused an emergency landing in Edmonton on a flight from London to Calgary in August 2012. For what? It started with pelvis grinding.
Thirty-six-year-old Justin Frank was grinding his pelvis two inches from a flight attendant’s face, asking if she wanted to “party in the lavatory” before grazing her breast in an attempt to grab her buttocks.
Frank also punched a TV screen before being wrestled to the ground by crew and passengers, then restrained until the emergency landing.
He pleaded guilty to assault, mischief and failing to follow directions of a flight crew. In February 2014, he received a one-year suspended sentence and was ordered to pay $15,200 in restitution to Air Canada as well as a $4,000 fine. Frank was also ordered to participate in any alcohol counselling that his probation officer ordered.
BlackBerry execs fired, fined after chewing through restraints
Two vice-presidents at Research in Motion caused an entire plane of Air Canada passengers to go into lockdown for the final hour of their trip because of their unruly and belligerent behaviour.
George Campbell, 45 of Conestogo, Ontario, and Paul Alexander Wilson, 38, of Kitchener, Ontario, were charged and pleaded guilty to mischief after kicking seats, yelling and swearing at flight staff and passengers. They reportedly mixed sleeping pills with alcohol on a flight from Toronto to Beijing that had to make a landing at Vancouver International Airport.
Crown counsel Gerri-Lyn Nelson said Wilson tried to break plastic restraints with his mouth and “ultimately chewed through the restraints,” according to the Toronto Star.
Both men were fired after the incident, and spent two nights in police custody.
The breakdown of the costs of the incident, which included $75,475 in extra fuel, $42,200 in pay for the crew and $2,560 in navigation service was given to court, according to the Globe and Mail.
The men were initially ordered to pay $35,878 each, but a court of appeal reduced each to about $10,528, reported the Globe. They each received a suspended sentence and probation for one year, and were banned from flying with Air Canada.
Air Canada occasionally bans troublesome passengers from booking tickets with their airline.