A Canadian airline says it had to divert a plane to Bermuda, that was on its way to the Dominican Republic, because a family was openly smoking in their seats.
According to the Canadian Press, the Canadian airline, Sunwing Vacations, said it was forced to re-route one of their planes to Bermuda on Friday after a father, mother and son were caught smoking cigarettes during a flight between Halifax and the Dominican Republic, and reportedly began behaving belligerently when asked to put out the cigarettes.
In addition to being accused of being "verbally abusive," the family allegedly refused to say where they had hidden their cigarette butts when questioned. Not knowing where they were disposed of prevented the airline from checking whether they had been extinguished properly.
That meant a Sunwing mechanic had to be flown to Bermuda to conduct a structural inspection of the plane, in addition to a separate search of the passenger cabin to find the discarded butts.
By the time those searches could be conducted, the plane's crew had exceeded their allowable duty time, necessitating an overnight layover.
As a result, the airline had to pay for the plane's nearly-200 passengers and crew to spend the night in Bermuda Friday, as well as put up the passengers stranded in Punta Cana by the delay.
Once the plane landed in Bermuda, the three family members were arrested by police The Bermuda Police Service says a 54-year-old man, a 52-year-old woman and a 22-year-old man were arrested after the plane landed, and they were later released on bail.
The Bermuda-based newspaper, the Royal Gazette, reported that the family's name was McNeil. All three were charged with disobeying lawful commands by a flight attendant, to which Donna was the only one to plead guilty.
Mother Donna McNeil also plead guilty to disobeying an order from the flight crew. The Gazette reports that the problem started when son David McNeil was not allowed access to the plane's bathroom shortly after it took off. He was initially charged with smoking on the plane and plead not guilty.
David Jr. denied a charge of smoking in the bathroom, while he and his father both denied the disobeying lawful commands charges. The prosecution didn’t offer evidence on the charges that the defendants denied, and the smoking charge against David Jr. was dropped.
The parents were fined $500 each. They were ordered to pay the fine immediately or face ten days in jail. The paper reported that the family of three lit up immediately after being released from the airport police station at 2 a.m. on Saturday. Witnesses told reporters that the family had been drinking.
Sunwing plans to take legal action against the smoking family. Not only for breaking the law, but also to try to recoup some of the estimated $50,000 in additional costs the airline is out to pay for hotel rooms, food, over-time for the crew, additional fuel costs, as well as the cost of delaying the next day's flights, and paying for hotel rooms for the passengers stranded in Punta Cana.
Domestic flights in Canada have been smoke-free since 1989, the year before the federal government extended the smoking ban to international flights of six hours or less.
Spurred by the demands of airline employees unhappy about working in a confined, smoke-filled setting, by the mid-1990s Canada was the first country to require its airlines make all domestic and international flights smoke-free.
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