WestJet says it’s investigating after a Toronto-area couple returning to Canada from the U.K. was escorted off an aircraft Sunday shortly after an alleged altercation with a flight attendant.
Video from passenger Maria Frota’s cell phone appears to show a male flight attendant striking the woman’s phone in an effort to obscure the device.
Frota, 57, said she was attempting to film a discussion she was having with the airplane’s captain while she and her husband Bryan Bridgwater, 79, were aboard WestJet flight 25 at London’s Gatwick Airport.
Frota said she attempted to place a bag containing blood pressure medicine in the overhead compartment above their seat, but the flight attendant refused to allow it.
“The reaction of the guy from the first moment was insane,” Frota told Global News in Toronto.
Frota said she asked the flight attendant if she could place her carry-on bag above the couple’s seat, but was told by the employee “that’s not how it works” who refused to allow it.
She added tensions rose and she was displeased but not threatening in any way, while Bridgwater said the flight attendant became “very aggressive.”
Frota said the flight attendant then asked her to accompany him to the flight deck because the captain wanted to speak to her.
WATCH: Toronto couple kicked off WestJet plane after flight attendant strikes hand, cellphone. Sean O’Shea reports.
“You respect us, the crew,” the flight attendant told Frota according to the video shown to Global News.
Inside the cockpit, the WestJet captain tells Frota you “can’t necessarily have your bag directly above your seat.”
“What I need to know is that you’re going to respect the flight,” the captain calmly asked Frota, who clearly responds “don’t worry.”
Seconds later, without any visible provocation, the video shows the flight attendant telling Frota and the captain “there was no ‘wrong foot,’ she literally yelled at…” at which point the flight attendant is seen striking Frota’s phone.
“It’s not going to happen, I don’t want her coming with us, this is not going to go well,” the flight attendant said.
The flight attendant then struck Frota’s cell phone a second time on video, before it stops recording.
Frota and Bridgwater said they were told to leave the flight by the captain at that point.
They then took a bus to Heathrow airport, where they returned back to Toronto on a flight through Reykjavik, Iceland.
WATCH: WestJet investigating after Toronto couple escorted off aircraft. Sean O’Shea reports. (June 6)
In a written statement sent to Global News Monday evening, WestJet said it’s aware of the incident and that there was “unacceptable behaviour of the guest” before boarding.
“Numerous attempts had been made by the crew to de-escalate the situation but to no avail. The operating crew subsequently determined the guest was too unruly to fly,” WestJet spokesperson Lauren Stewart wrote in part.
“It is WestJet’s position that the guest’s travel with us would have had the potential to compromise the safety of our crew and the other guests.”
However, WestJet said it’s investigating and will be following up with all flight attendants, including the staff member seen on the video.
“Importantly, it is not acceptable on the part of our flight attendant to attempt to remove the phone from the guest’s hands as appears may have been the case,” Stewart said.
“The safety of all of our guests and crew members onboard our flights is always important to us and we will continue to review our response to unusual situations like this one.”
But airline passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs, who drew the case to the attention of Global News, said the incident illustrates a serious problem.
“I see no justification for the actions of this flight attendant,” said Lukacs from Budapest, Hungary.
Frota and Bridgwater, who travel frequently to Britain and Brazil, say they are familiar with air travel procedures and did not deserve to be excluded from the flight.
They added they are now out of pocket about $2,500 to pay for an alternate way back to Canada.
Brian Godfrey, a flight attendant consultant, watched the video taken by Frota and said staff shouldn’t come into contact with flyers.
“At no time should a flight attendant ever strike a passenger – at any time – nor should a flight attendant grab any passenger’s belongings.”
He said his 17-year career, he has accommodated many special requests for carry-on bags.
“A flight attendant’s primary duties are safety, comfort, customer service and performing all duties in a timely manner.”