WestJet 737 Forced To Divert As Passenger Removes Mask To Smoke

On Sunday, June 14th, a WestJet Boeing 737 flying from Vancouver to Toronto had to divert to James Richardson International Airport in Winnipeg. The diversion was due to an ‘unruly’ passenger, who allegedly lit a cigarette and failed to comply with crew instructions to wear a mask. The man faces a hefty fine and is charged with several offenses.

WestJet 737
The incident occurred on a Boeing 737-800. Photo: Getty Images

An unruly and non-compliant passenger

According to CTV News, Manitoba RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) were called around 14:30 (Central Daylight Time) and were directed to meet the aircraft at the Winnipeg airport:

“They were advised this male had lit up a cigarette on board and was also not listening to any of the directions from the flight crew which included to don his personal safety mask as well,” – Corporal Julie Courchaine, Manitoba RCMP via CTV News

The 60-year-old man from British Columbia was arrested and taken into custody. The individual faces several offenses, including failure to comply with flight crew instructions to wear a face mask.

According to Transport Canada, this is the very first time anyone has been charged with the new offense, which carries a maximum fine of C$5,000 (US$3,700). The directive, which requires all passengers to wear a face-covering onboard, was issued just two months ago.

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WestJet 737 Forced To Divert As Passenger Removes Mask To Smoke
WestJet’s domestic operations, excluding regional subsidiary Encore, use the Boeing 737. Photo: Getty Images

Remarks from WestJet and man’s lawyer

Issuing a statement, this is what the airline had to say about the incident,

“In support of the directive, it is mandatory for guests to wear protective face coverings throughout their travel journey, including at the airport and while in flight…In addition and per the directive, travelers are required to show that they have a suitable face-covering prior to boarding a WestJet flight.”

No smoking in the cabin
No-smoking signs are displayed throughout all commercial passenger aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Matt Gould, the lawyer representing the man involved, says there was a language barrier, telling CTV:

“In terms of what an individual was told or how that was interpreted and what was made from that, it’s difficult to come to any useful conclusion at this time…Certainly everyone’s innocent until proven guilty.”

Flight details

The flight was headed from Vancouver to Toronto as WS706, departing just before 10:00. Gate-to-gate, the trip would normally take about five hours. However, due to the incident, the aircraft had to divert to Winnipeg’s airport to deal with the passenger. It refueled and departed for Toronto – landing approximately 90 minutes after its originally scheduled arrival time.

WS706 diversion
Flight WS706 diverted to Winnipeg before continuing to Toronto. Photo: FlightRadar24.com

Released on bail with July court date

The man at the center of this incident was released on C$3,000 (US$2,200) bail this past Wednesday. His next court date has been set for July 16th, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.

Do you think there’s any way the man involved could have a reasonable explanation for not complying? To what extent can “language-barrier” be used as an excuse? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.