For passengers on plane diverted to Winnipeg, legal troubles could just be starting: UM professor

RCMP are seen leading an unruly passenger off a plane diverted to Winnipeg Thursday.
RCMP are seen leading an unruly passenger off a plane diverted to Winnipeg Thursday. Deweybwoi91/Twitter

The legal troubles could just be starting for two unruly passengers who pleaded guilty this week for their role in bringing a Mexico-bound flight to an unscheduled stop in Winnipeg, according to a transport economist from the University of Manitoba.

James Iontton, 25, and Natalie Louise Walker, 34, both from the United Kingdom, were on a flight from London, U.K. to Los Cabos, Mexico, which was diverted to Winnipeg last Thursday.

A fellow passenger told Global News the trouble started when Iontton got drunk a couple hours into the flight and began threatening passengers and airline staff.

Iontton was ultimately restrained in his seat and arrested when the plane landed in Winnipeg.

But that’s when Walker, who was travelling separately from Iontton, started causing trouble, too.

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Police were forced to return to the grounded plane to arrest Walker, who had also been drinking.

In a Winnipeg court Tuesday, Walker pleaded guilty to causing a disturbance and mischief over $5,000 and Iontton pleaded guilty to mischief over $5,000 and assaulting a peace officer.

Walker was sentenced to 30 days behind bars minus time served, while Iontton was sentenced to 30 days. Both were also ordered to each pay $100,000 in restitution.

But Changmin Jiang, an associate professor supply of chain management at the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business, thinks the pair’s legal troubles may just be getting started.

‘It’s a rippling effect throughout the whole network’

He said although airlines are prepared for unscheduled events like the one Walker and Iontton have admitted to causing, the cost of such diversions can be very expensive — and airlines have the option to sue when passengers cause such problems.

“One flight being disrupted, it’s actually going to affect other flights as well because it’s a rippling effect throughout the whole network,” he told Global News Wednesday.

“You add up all this, like the actual cost that airline have to incur and also the time cost and also a lot of the opportunity cost of the passengers, then it will actually be a very significant amount.”

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The flight ultimately got stuck in Winnipeg for the night following the pair’s arrests, and court heard Tuesday that passengers waiting to fly back from Mexico were also impacted.

Crown attorney Peter Edgett told court 910 passengers were affected in all, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses.

While the defence lawyer who represented Walker and Iontton said the restitution they’ve been ordered to pay will go to the airline, Jiang says it’s not likely to cover the actual costs.

He’s hopeful the airline chooses to take civil action against the pair.

“It will be, in fact, good for the future passengers to actually have this kind of warning to stop [other passengers] from doing something really stupid,” he said.

Global News reached out to the airline behind the diverted flight, TUI Airways, but the company declined to say whether or not they plan to sue Walker or Iontton.

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The pair’s lawyer said they’re likely to be deported back to the United Kingdom when they finish their stints in prison.

— With files from Joe Scarpelli

Click to play video: 'Video shows arrest of unruly passenger on plane diverted to Winnipeg'
Video shows arrest of unruly passenger on plane diverted to Winnipeg

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