It was promoted as a New Year’s Eve celebration in Cancun, Mexico: a six-night trip that included parties with open bars and a day exploring Tulum, a popular tourist destination on the Yucatan Peninsula known for its ancient ruins and l turquoise water from its beaches.
It would start with a privately rented plane from Montreal where guests – a collection of Canadian social media influencers, reality TV personalities and others – would be entertained by a DJ on the flight to Mexico.
But the trip has become a fiasco, with airlines fleeing the group and leaving many of its members stranded and Canadian authorities promising to investigate after passenger videos appeared on social media showing them ignoring restrictions on Covid-19 from Canada.
In the videos, passengers are seen dancing and jumping in the hallways, shouting without masks and passing bottles of alcohol. A woman can be seen vaporizing in the cabin. Another passenger, with his mask hanging under his chin, calls on his fellow passengers through the cab intercom to sit down, and then “to keep up the energy.”
“We’re still making some noise, welcome to 111 Private Club!” says the same passenger in a video, referring to an online group described as “invitation only” that was founded by James William Awad, a self-described musician and entrepreneur who organized the trip. Passengers, many of them without masks on, shout for approval.
Some 27 of the flight’s 130 passengers have returned to Canada, the country’s health minister, Jean-Yves Duclos, told reporters on Friday.
“They were all arrested and interrogated at the border,” he said, adding that they had been tested for Covid-19 and asked about their vaccination test and their quarantine plans.
Many passengers were apparently stranded in Mexico after at least three airlines said they would not return.
“Private Club 111 is working tirelessly to get everyone back home safely as soon as we can,” Mr. Awad in a statement posted Thursday on a personal blog. “I understand why many fellow citizens are upset by the current situation,” he said earlier in the statement. “As someone who enjoys gathering people, I made a commitment to organize a private and safe event in Cancun with my private club group 111.”
Transport Canada, the country’s transportation authority, said it was investigating the conduct of passengers, who could face fines of up to $ 5,000 for violating Canada’s Covid-19 restrictions, which prohibit passengers from traveling without masks. .
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the behavior seen on the plane a “slap” on people who have complied with Covid-19 restrictions on planes and at home.
“I think like all Canadians who have seen these videos, I am extremely frustrated,” he said. “We know how people have worked to stay safe, to limit family reunions for Christmas, to wear masks, to get vaccinated, to do all the right things.”
Sunwing Airlines, which brought the group to Cancun in December. 30, said it canceled the return flight to Canada after an internal investigation found that the passengers “showed undisciplined behavior and did not comply with 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 non-compliance would likely be based on their previous behavior on board.” , the company said in a statement Friday.
Mr. Awad said in his statement that he had accepted “all demands” made by the airline, but had opposed Sunwing’s refusal to provide meals during the five-hour return flight. Hey then wrote on Twitter that the point of conflict was not the meals and that he had “simply asked Sunwing to try to do something about it.”
In his statement, Sunwing did not detail how the flight crew responded to the passengers or whether the captain was aware of what was happening during the flight to Mexico.
Air Canada said it denied flights to 19 people linked to the group, according to CTV News.
“As far as 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 it refused to take passengers home after trying to book a flight through the airline.
“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,” he added. said Air Transat.
Passengers crowding the aisles compromised the ability of flight attendants to move around the cockpit and help anyone who may have been injured or in need of medical attention, said Mark Millam, vice president of flight safety for the Flight Safety Foundation. provides safety guidelines for the aerospace industry.
If a sudden turbulence had hit the plane, passengers in the aisles could have been seriously injured, Millam said. “The plane wasn’t designed to be a dance floor,” he said.
In his statement, Mr. Awad said the trip was the first travel event planned by Private Club 111, which he described as “a dream and a vision”.
He added: “I’ve learned a lot and I’m still learning from this experience.”
Vjosa Isaiprovide reports.