It was promoted as a New Year’s Eve celebration in Cancún, Mexico — a six-night trip that included parties with open bars and a day exploring Tulum, a popular tourist destination in the Yucatán Peninsula known for its ancient ruins and the turquoise water of its beaches.
It would begin with a privately chartered plane from Montreal where the guests — a coterie of Canadian social media influencers, reality television personalities and others — would be entertained by a D.J. On the flight to Mexico.
But the trip has turned into a fiasco, with airlines shunning the group and stranding many of its members and the Canadian authorities vowing to investigate after videos of the passengers surfaced on social media showing them flouting Canada’s Covid-19 restrictions.
The videos show passengers jumping and dancing in the aisles, shouting and passing around alcohol bottles. One woman can be seen smoking in the cabin. Another passenger, his mask hanging under his chin, yells at his fellow travelers over the cabin intercom to sit down, and then, “to keep the energy up.”
“Let’s hear some noise, welcome to 111 Private Club!” the same passenger says in a video, referring to an online group described as “invitation only” that was founded by James William Awad, a musician and self-described entrepreneur who organized the trip. Many of the passengers shout in approval, some without masks.
About 27 of the 130 passengers on the flight are back in Canada, the country’s health minister, Jean-Yves Duclos, told reporters on Friday.
“They were all stopped and interrogated at the border,” he said, adding that they were tested for Covid-19 and asked about their proof of vaccination and their quarantine plans.
Many passengers remained stuck in Mexico despite the fact that at least three airlines had said they wouldn’t fly them back.
“The 111 private club is working tirelessly to get everyone back home safely as quickly as we can,” Mr. Awad said in a statement posted Thursday on a personal blog. “I understand why many fellow citizens are upset about the current situation,” he said earlier in the statement. “As someone who enjoys bringing people together, I committed to hosting a private and safe event in Cancún with my group from the 111 private club.”
Transport Canada, the country’s transportation authority, said it was investigating the conduct of the passengers, who could face fines of up to $5,000 for violating Canada’s Covid-19 restrictions, which forbid passengers from traveling without masks.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the behavior seen on the plane “a slap in the face” to people who have abided by Covid-19 restrictions on planes and at home.
“I think, like all Canadians who’ve seen those videos, I’m extremely frustrated,” he said. “We know how hard people have worked to keep themselves safe, to limit their family gatherings at Christmastime, to wear masks, to get vaccinated, to do all the right things.”
Sunwing Airlines, which flew the group to Cancún on Dec. 30, said it canceled the return flight to Canada after an internal investigation found that the passengers “exhibited unruly behavior and did not respect aviation or public health regulations.”
“Our decision to cancel the return flight was based on the group’s refusal to accept all terms and our security team’s assessment that noncompliance would be likely based on their previous disruptive onboard behavior,” the company said in a statement on Friday.
Mr. Awad said in his statement that he had agreed to “every demand” made by the airline but had objected to Sunwing’s refusal to provide meals during the five-hour return flight. He later wrote on Twitter that the sticking point was not over meals and that he had “simply asked Sunwing to try and do something about it.”
Sunwing didn’t elaborate on the responses of the flight crew to passengers or whether the captain was aware what was happening during the flight from Sunwing to Mexico.
According to CTV News, Air Canada denied flights to 19 people linked to the group.
“To the extent that we can identify the passengers who were part of the group, we are denying boarding to ensure the safety of other passengers and our crews,” Air Canada said.
Air Transat, another Canadian airline said on Twitter that they refused to take passengers home after they tried booking a flight through them.
“We confirm that they will be denied boarding based on our legal and regulatory obligations to ensure the safety of both our passengers and crew, which is our top priority,” Air Transat said.
The flight attendants were unable to move through the cabin without being obstructed by passengers, according to Mark Millam (vice president of technical programs, Flight Safety Foundation), which provides safety guidelines for aviation and aerospace industries.
Mr. Millam said that passengers could have been seriously injured if there had been sudden turbulence. “The aircraft wasn’t designed to be a dance floor,” he said.
In his statement, Mr. Awad said that the trip was the first travel event planned by the 111 Private Club, which he described as “a dream and a vision.”
He added, “I have significantly learned, and I am still learning from this experience.”
Vjosa IsaiContributed reporting
Source: NY Times