The organizer of a now-notorious Sunwing charter flight to Cancun said he’s planning to sue the airline for refusing to fly his group back to Montreal from Mexico.
Speaking at a news conference in Montreal on Thursday, James William Awad said that Sunwing “abandoned” the Quebec group of influencers and reality show stars in a foreign country, failing to respect their agreed-upon contract.
Images from the Dec. 30 flight showed passengers ignoring public-health measures, jumping and dancing in the aisle, vaping and openly passing around a bottle of hard liquor on the plane. In one video, a person could be seen crowd-surfing while the plane was in the air.
Sunwing cancelled the group’s return flight, claiming its organizers did not accept all the terms and conditions the airline set out to allow passengers to board. Air Canada and Air Transat followed suit, saying they would not fly home any of the participants from the Sunwing party flight.
“Yes, we saw the videos, there were a few people partying on the plane,” Awad acknowledged.
“But what happened is that [the airlines] decided to put everybody in the same boat.”
CBC News has asked Sunwing for comment but has not yet received a response. Awad said he would consider additional action against Air Canada and Air Transat, as well.
No regrets, but apologies
Awad said he does not regret holding the event, but he apologized for the behaviour captured in the videos.
“My goal was for everyone to have fun, as a group, while respecting the sanitary measures,” he said. “Of course I regret what happened on that plane, for certain people that did not respect the rules.”
He said he “can understand why people at home” would be upset seeing that behaviour, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who called the videos “a slap in the face.”
Awad claimed the party only lasted a few minutes, and said that if it had gone on for too long, the pilot would have chosen to land the plane. He said he also removed those who broke the rules from the group associated with his company, 111 Private Club.
When asked why, as the organizer, he didn’t step in to stop the behaviour, Awad said all the passengers were adults who could take responsibility for their own actions.
“Everyone has to understand the rules and act as they want,” he said.
Denies fake PCR tests, fines
Despite the airlines’ bans, Awad said all passengers on the original flight were able to return to Canada by about a week after the original return date, although some had to fly through the United States and Panama.
To Awad’s knowledge, no one has yet been charged with a crime or fined, although he acknowledged that could change “in the coming days.”
The federal departments of Transport, Public Safety and Health all launched investigations into the incident.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in early January the federal government had sent files about the travellers to Quebec’s public prosecutions office, the Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales du Québec (DPCP). The DPCP has not yet responded to a request from CBC News about the status of those files.
Transport Canada said passengers could be fined up to $5,000 for each offence committed on board the aircraft.
Additional fines and even jail time could follow if passengers were found to have been endangering others or to have provided falsified information upon their return to Canada.
When asked about leaked screenshots from their group chat suggesting passengers put Vaseline in their noses to ensure a negative PCR test result, Awad claimed it was not a serious suggestion.
“I’m not sure if it was a joke or anything, but no one actually took that seriously,” he said. “I’m not aware of anybody in the group that used Vaseline.”