Airline may sue family after flight diverted to Bermuda due to alleged smoking

HALIFAX – A Canadian tour operator says it’s considering suing a Cape Breton family for the estimated $40,000 cost of a flight diversion to Bermuda caused by what it claims was unruly behaviour and smoking during the trip.

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 at L.F. Wade International Airport in Hamilton, Bermuda, on Friday.

McWilliams said the airline had to put up 180 passengers overnight and bring in a mechanic – and it may try to recover those costs in a civil action.

He said from Toronto that the airline decided to land because flight attendants believed the family was smoking. He said he understood it was done openly. However, a charge of smoking on the aircraft was denied by a family member and then dropped.

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The plane resumed its journey on Saturday afternoon.

But three members of a four-person family were arrested by the Bermuda police and appeared in Magistrates’ Court in Hamilton, Bermuda, to face charges on Monday.

Prosecutor Carrington Mahoney alleged that David McNeil Sr., 54, Donna McNeil, 52, and David McNeil Jr., 22, disobeyed orders to return to their seats after a dispute with flight attendants about using the lavatories during takeoff.

The court heard that minutes into the flight, the younger David McNeil rose from his seat to use the washroom.

Prosecutors said crew members asked him to return to his seat and told him that he was not allowed to walk around the cabin until the captain had turned off the seatbelt sign.

Prosecutors alleged the father also attempted to access the washroom and was also instructed to return to his seat. The court heard they were then joined by Donna McNeil, who asked that her son be allowed to use the toilet.

When the seatbelt sign was deactivated, the son used the washroom and returned to his seat. Prosecutors said the father then went into the washroom, cursing at a flight attendant while doing so.

Prosecutors also said that two hours later, a crew member noticed David McNeil Jr. leaving a washroom smelling strongly of cigarette smoke.

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The court heard that after an unsuccessful search for a cigarette butt in the washroom, the crew made the decision to divert the flight to Bermuda to remove the family.

The father pleaded guilty to behaving in a disorderly manner by using abusive and offensive language, while Donna McNeil pleaded guilty to disobeying a lawful order by a flight attendant.

David McNeil Jr. denied a charge of smoking on the aircraft, while he and his father both denied disobeying a lawful order.

The Crown elected to offer no evidence on the matters which the defendants denied, and the smoking charges were dropped.

While the family members remained silent, lawyer Victoria Pearman said that the trip was a family vacation gone awry and that tensions were high because of delays in the flight’s departure.

She said McNeil Jr. needed to use the restroom “urgently” and the family found the cabin crew’s response “heavy handed”.

“It just seems that this could have all been done another way,” she said. “Even though all offences before this court are serious, given the human element of this, the court may consider that this is a one off and unlikely to happen again.”

Senior Magistrate Archibald Warner fined David McNeil Sr. and Donna McNeil $500 each for their offences, ordering that the fines be paid immediately or they would could face up to 10 days in prison.


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