Six passengers from the infamous Sunwing flight to Mexico that saw reality TV stars and influencers vape, sing and dance on board have been slapped with financial penalties.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced on Tuesday that six revellers received “penalties” of up to $5,000 because they were not fully vaccinated when they boarded the flight to Cancun — but he did not disclose the exact amount of each of their fines.
“Certain behaviours reported in connection with the flight on December 30, 2021, are unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Alghabra said in a press release.
“This is why Transport Canada took immediate action. Aviation rules must be respected by everyone, for the sake of everyone’s safety. Transport Canada will continue to investigate and issue all necessary penalties.”
The investigation into the flight is ongoing, the release went on to say, and “it is expected that more penalties will be issued in the coming days and weeks.”
There were a total of 154 passengers on board the privately chartered aircraft. Videos of the Dec. 30 flight shared on social media show a number of those passengers not wearing masks as they use vapes, hold a large bottle of vodka, and sing and dance in the aisles and on seats.
Social media posts showed some of the passengers were cast members from Quebec reality television shows, including the Quebec adaptation of the popular British dating series Love Island.
News of the flight emerged as Canada was grappling with a serious wave of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos at the time had advised Canadians not to travel abroad, warning travelling Canadians “could contract the virus, or get stranded abroad.”
Three days before the infamous flight, 1,830 COVID-19 patients were reported in Canadian hospitals, and 480 of them were in intensive care units, according to national data.
One week after the flight, Canada reported 39,433 new COVID-19 cases and 69 deaths, but a number of provinces had restricted COVID-19 PCR testing as they drowned in the demand — prompting the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to warn that daily case counts likely underestimate the true numbers.
The reality of the COVID-19 wave hammering Canada juxtaposed with the influencers dancing, vaping and drinking on a private plane — some without masks — triggered swift and severe backlash, including from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“It’s a slap in the face to see people putting themselves, putting their fellow citizens, putting airline workers at risk by being completely irresponsible,” Trudeau said at the time.
He added that the videos of the partiers made him feel “extremely frustrated.”
Some passengers have since apologized for participating in the party plane. Rebecca St-Pierre, a 19-year-old student and passenger on the Sunwing flight, was stuck abroad with COVID-19 after the flight. She has since returned to Canada.
Speaking to Global News as she self-isolated in a hotel room in Mexico in early January, St-Pierre apologized for her actions — adding that she knew she didn’t have “special permission to party.”
“My future actions will be better thought out,” St-Pierre said.
Other passengers, however, remain indignant. One month after the infamous incident, organizer James William Awad told reporters that he plans to sue Sunwing over the incident.
He claimed 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,” Awad said during a news conference in Montreal.
It’s unclear whether he has followed through on his promise.
Meanwhile, the chickens are coming home to roost for the passengers who partied on the Sunwing flight.
“Since January 4, 2022, Transport Canada has been conducting an investigation to determine whether the Aeronautics Act, regulations or requirements pertaining to aviation safety and security were contravened during that flight,” the Tuesday press release from the government said.
“If non-compliance is identified, Transport Canada will ensure that all appropriate enforcement actions are taken.”