The organizer of a Sunwing flight to Mexico that garnered international attention after passengers defied COVID-19 health measures and partied in the aisle of a plane says he is working on a potential lawsuit against the airline.
James William Awad told reporters Thursday that airlines “abandoned” 154 Canadians down south “without knowing if they could afford another night in a hotel, without knowing if they could afford food the next day, without any option to return to Canada.”
“Right now we’re working on taking legal action against Sunwing,” he said during a news conference in Montreal.
Sunwing cancelled the group’s return, citing an ongoing investigation and the passengers’ refusal to accept all terms for the charter flight.
Air Canada and Air Transat also declined to allow the group to fly home using their airlines. Awad said he is looking at possible legal action against those companies as well.
Global News has contacted all three airlines for a response to Awad’s statement.
Videos of the Dec. 30 charter flight from Montreal to Mexico shared on social media show unmasked passengers in close proximity singing and dancing in the aisle and on seats as some clutch bottles of liquor, snap selfies and vape.
Their trip, which included influencers and stars from popular Quebec adaptations of reality shows, came as Canada faced an Omicron-fuelled surge of COVID-19 cases. Last month, the federal government urged people to avoid travelling abroad as infections spiked.
In the end, many travellers within the group ended up having to find alternative flights home. Awad said some had to travel to the United States and Panama to return to Canada.
The actions of the passengers on the Sunwing flight were widely condemned, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describing them as “idiots.”
When asked about the actions of those on the chartered flight, Awad said he would “like to excuse myself for the people who did not respect the rules.”
Awad, who operates 111 Private Club, said that he doesn’t regret the trip, however.
“I don’t regret organizing the event because we all had our fun,” he said. “My intentions were not for all of this to happen.”
The 28-year-old held the news conference with the flags of Canada, Quebec and the United States behind him and interspersed his answers with promotional commentaries about his business.
Journalists were told they could each ask one question and would be removed if they attempted to ask a followup.
Awad said that no one in the group is facing repercussions from authorities to his knowledge — for now.
“No one was jailed. No one was fined,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in the coming days.”
Transport Canada confirmed Thursday the investigation into the raucous party on the flight is still ongoing. In a statement, the agency said it “will not hesitate to take appropriate and proportional enforcement action in light of the facts uncovered.”
In an email to Global News, however, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said 18 notices of non-compliance under the Quarantine Act were issued to travellers from the Dec. 30, 2021 flight.
“These are issued on-the-spot to signal obvious non-compliance with a requirement,” the email reads.
The agency said it is also following up on suspected cases of fraud and non-respect of quarantine.
Of the 18 notices issued, five reports were sent to Quebec’s Crown Prosecutors Office to be reviewed, according to PHAC.
The Crown will then decide whether to press charges.
— with files from Global News’ Rachel Gilmore and The Canadian Press