Quebec trip organizer, Sunwing spar over flight cancellation

The organizer of a chartered flight from Montreal to Cancun, whose passengers have been widely condemned for partying on the plane unmasked, and the airline that cancelled the group’s return flight are blaming each other for a disagreement over the conditions of the trip.

The organizer says the airline cancelled the group’s return flight to Canada due to a disagreement over in-flight meals, while the airline says the flight was cancelled because the organizer refused to accept the airline’s conditions.

Videos of the Dec. 30 flight shared on social media show passengers not wearing masks as they gather in close proximity, singing and dancing in the aisle and on seats. In one video, a large bottle of vodka appears to be passed among passengers, and later a woman appears to be vaping.

James William Awad, who says he organized the chartered private flight through his company TripleOne, which is described on its website as a “decentralized business” that appears focused on technology, said he met with a Sunwing security representative before returning to Canada and discussed conditions for the flight’s return, including three inflight guardians, no standing in aisles, no serving of alcohol and that masks must be worn at all times.

But he says the negotiations broke down because the airline refused to provide in-flight meals to the passengers.

“I agreed to every demand, including multiple In-Flight Guardians, I assured them every measure would be followed, but we couldn’t conclude an agreement because Sunwing refused to Provide Meals to the group for a 5h flight,” Awad said in a statement Thursday on Twitter.

In a statement sent to the Star on Wednesday, Sunwing Airlines said in order to ensure the safety of the crew and passengers, they provided terms and conditions to the tour group leader for the private charter to return to Montreal on Jan. 5.

“Unfortunately, the group did not accept all of the terms. As a result of our ongoing investigation and the group’s refusal to accept all terms of carriage, we have made the decision to cancel the return flight,” the statement reads.

The airline described the passengers’ behaviour on the Dec. 30 flight as “unruly” and alleged that it contravened several Canadian aviation and public health regulations.

Following Sunwing’s flight cancellation, Air Transat and Air Canada both said they will refuse to carry the passengers home.

In his statement, Awad said his group is “working tirelessly to get everyone back home safely as quickly as we can.”

Awad organized the trip including a group of social media “influencers” and reality TV stars, such as Karl Sabourin from the popular Quebec show “Occupation Double,” and Sandrine Séguin and Anna-Maëlle Laprise, who both appeared on the province’s version of “Love Island.”

Among those looking for a way home is Rebecca St-Pierre, a 19-year-old student from Trois-Rivières, Que., who said she feels abandoned, not knowing how she’ll pay for her hotel room as her stay is extended indefinitely. She said she tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday and is now in isolation in Tulum, south of Cancun. She estimated about 30 others on the flight have tested positive.

“The organizer just left everybody. I don’t know who’s still here. All the flights have been cancelled,” an emotional St-Pierre told The Canadian Press.

St-Pierre said she won the free trip in a contest on Instagram and had never previously heard of Awad, the organizer. “I was expecting a relaxing week, where I was going to be careful,” she said. “But this turns out to be an expensive trip for something that was supposed to be free.”

Awad did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Videos of the passengers partying while Omicron surges across the country outraged Canadians from coast to cast. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident a “slap in the face.” Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino issued a joint statement late Tuesday saying they had directed their departments to investigate.

The statement said passengers who violated Transport Department regulations could face fines of up to $5,000 per offence.

More to come.

With files from The Canadian Press

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