Mexico party plane organizer threatens legal action over airlines refusing return flights
The man who organized a "party plane" of Quebec influencers on an ill-fated New Year's trip to Mexico says he's now planning to sue Sunwing, the airline that flew them down on a charter flight before cancelling their return trip.
James William Awad said in a press conference Thursday that the legal action could extend to Air Canada, which declared the group a safety risk and also refused to fly them home.
"We're working on taking legal action against Sunwing and we may be proceeding against Air Canada as well," he said.
Air Canada and Sunwing have not yet responded to requests for comment.
The group's behaviour on the flight south from Montreal landed them in hot water, with videos showing passengers not wearing masks, partying and drinking in the aisles. Some are reality TV stars, and others have high-profile social media accounts.
One participant also revealed several people tried to fake their COVID-19 tests, though Awad insisted Thursday that wasn't true.
He argued that Canadian airlines -- Sunwing, Air Canada and Air Transat -- had no right to leave the group stranded in Mexico for days past their intended return to Quebec.
"To abandon 154 Canadian citizens in Mexico... without knowing if they can afford another night in a hotel, without knowing if they can afford food for the next day -- they decided to abandon everybody because of a single article in the news," he said.
Awad didn't explain the potential claim against Air Canada, but said that when it came to Sunwing, "we're suing the fact that they're not respecting the contracts."
In the end, some people were forced to find circuitous routes through the United States and Panama to get home, he said Thursday. Others gave up trying to come home, at least for a while, he said.
"There's a lot of people that stayed in Mexico to continue the party, because they knew we were banned, so they decided, 'You know what? I'm just going to stay there for a while,'" he said.
"The last person that stayed there because of the ban was at most, maybe a week... There's a few people that [had] to go to the U.S., some people [had] to go to Panama, some people have to go to different countries to come back. For me, that was very worrying."
Awad himself returned to Quebec a week and a half ago, when he said he rented a U-Haul truck in New York and drove across the border in the middle of the night. Quebec police ticketed him at the time for breaking the province's 10 p.m. curfew, which was in place at the time.
In early January, when Sunwing cancelled the return flight, the company told CTV News that it did so for safety reasons.
In order to board the return flight, the tour group was presented with terms and conditions “to ensure the safety of the crew and passengers,” the airline said at the time.
“Unfortunately, the group did not accept all of the terms,” said its statement. “As a result… we have made the decision to cancel the return flight.”
Awad later claimed he did agree to all the conditions presented but that he had insisted the group be served food, which the airline wouldn't do.
Awad also said Thursday that no member of his group has faced legal consequences so far for their involvement, though authorities said earlier this month that they're reviewing at least a dozen possible infractions.
"I'm not aware of any penalties. Nobody was jailed. Nobody was fined at this moment," Awad said. "Now, we'll see what happens in the coming days."
A spokesperson from the Quebec Crown prosecutors' office confirmed the files are still under investigation.
"No legal action has yet been taken in the files that were recently submitted, since this analysis is still ongoing," said Audrey Roy-Cloutier.
"Several investigations" are being done by "different organizations" over various potential offences, she said.
"We would like to remind you that the information concerning a case becomes public when a criminal charge is laid or a statement of offence is served, and this is why we cannot provide more details on this subject at this time."
Public health authorities earlier specified that the infractions they were looking at did not involve behaviour on the flight, but rather potential violations of COVID-19 rules around quarantine, testing and other travel restrictions.
One participant in the trip, 19-year-old Rebecca St-Pierre, told media at the time that she knew that people had used Vaseline to try to fake their COVID-19 tests. But Awad said he didn't know anything about that, saying the idea was just mentioned in a group chat.
"I'm not sure if it was a joke or anything, but no one actually took that seriously, and I'm not aware of anybody who did that," he said.
Awad claimed that only a minority of passengers on the Dec. 30 flight were behaving irresponsibly and that it wasn't fair for the rest to be punished for their actions.
However, he also said he owed an apology to Canadians who were annoyed to hear about the party flight.
"We've all been going through this COVID" for the past two years, he said.
"I can understand why people at home would feel this way. I would like to excuse myself for the people that did not respect the rules."
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