Island passenger says Sunwing was right to divert plane

Mitch MacDonald
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Susan Allen, left, Pam Ling, Cathy Shellington and Kim Dolan celebrate arriving in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic last week. The four Islanders were travelling on a Sunwing Airlines flight that made national news when it made an unexpected landing in Bermuda, because of allegations a Cape Breton family was smoking and verbally abusive on the flight.

Sunwing Airlines did the right thing by diverting a plane destined for the Dominican Republic and making an unexpected stop in Bermuda following an in-air incident, says a Charlottetown resident who was on the flight.

Cathy Shellington and three friends will not likely forget the fight anytime soon after it made national headlines following an incident between a Cape Breton family and airline staff.

The family, which includes husband and wife David and Darlene MacNeil, as well as son David MacNeil Jr., has appeared in a Bermuda court over the incident.

Sunwing Airlines has said it intends to sue the family for $50,000 to recover costs from the unexpected landing.

While the incident and diversion took a day out of the passenger’s planned vacations, Shellington said she felt the airline made the right decision and the group she had been travelling with also made the best of it.

“We had a few laughs and made some jokes,” Shellington said. “When we landed in Bermuda, some people were tired and cranky but what can you do?”

The flight seemed almost doomed to fail, as Shellington said there was a lengthy delay departing Halifax last weekend.

She said while there were about 10 passengers visibly upset over the delay, it was once the flight got in the air when the real drama began.

Shellington sat in the front of the plane and could hear the events unfolding near the back where the MacNeils were sitting.

She wasn’t exactly sure what was happening.

“We could just hear a commotion and loud voices,” she said. “We didn’t know what was going on at the time.”

Shellington added her group could later hear the flight attendants talking and discovered it was a family that was giving them trouble.

“They (the attendants) were almost shaking, they were mad,” she said. “We didn’t hear anything about the smoking at first… my take on it was that they (the MacNeils) shouldn’t have even gotten on the flight, it sounded like they were trouble to begin with.”

Darlene MacNeil, 52, pleaded guilty in a Bermuda court early last week to disobeying orders from the crew while husband David MacNeil, 54, pleaded guilty to using abusive and insulting language.

David MacNeil Jr., 22, pleaded not guilty to smoking in the plane’s washroom and the charge was dismissed.

It was a couple hours into the flight when passengers were told the plane would make an unexpected landing in Bermuda because of technical difficulties, although Shellington said it was obvious why the plane was landing.

When the plane landed, police and emergency workers were waiting to remove the MacNeil family.

“We were not really (worried) but people a few rows behind us were. We kind of knew what was going on,” said Shellington.

Police removed the Mabou family from the back of the plane. However, since the airport was closed, the rest of the passengers waited in the plane for about an hour.

Once they unloaded, passengers were still not aware of when their flight would resume. After a bit of waiting, they were told to pick up their luggage and fill out customs forms.

About three hours after the landing, passengers were finally told they would be put up in hotel rooms for the night.

Shellington said the waiting and not knowing when their flight would resume was the only real disappointment in the situation.

Otherwise, she said that her group felt Sunwing had handled the incident well.

“We all thought Sunwing did the right thing by taking the plane down… I mean, how do you deal with something like that,” she said. “The only thing I could say was that in the airport we had no idea we would be going to a hotel.

“I don’t know if nobody really knew or they just weren’t telling us, but we were there for three hours before we were bussed.”

Shellington added the airline paid for passengers’ meals and hotel rooms during the delay, as well as for the cab rides back and forth.

As well, it didn’t hurt to see a bit of Bermuda, she said.

“It was beautiful, the area and the place we stayed. We went walking around the next morning and got a little tour,” said Shellington. “One of the girls with us was (in Bermuda before) but the other three of us hadn’t been.”

Shellington added the rest of her vacation in Punta Cana was great and her flight home, also with Sunwing, was “perfect.”

The charter flight returned Friday night to Halifax, thus time without incident.

Organizations: Dominican Republic

Geographic location: Bermuda, Charlottetown, Cape Breton Halifax

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  • caper
    February 12, 2013 - 07:01

    to Lori & Penelope, there was no evidence of smoking or any alarm presented in court, so, apparently that didn't happen, complete over reaction by crew. If a smoke alarm had gone off in the washroom, it would have been noted in court and charges would not have been dropped when Crown offered no evidence. So, trip to Bermuda was totally uncalled for. Think you need a dose of reality, take off the rose colored glasses!!

  • jojo
    February 12, 2013 - 00:03

    We were there with you. Thanks God we all alive with that plan full.

  • Penelope
    February 11, 2013 - 16:55

    Sorry but have to jump in here, first let me say that I can't believe how many people have become experts in flying, you all must be captains of planes??? are you? And you also must know how the industry works, wow I love to hear people think they know more than the airlines when something doesn't go as planned. Let me ask you all if they had not take the plane down and something had happened would you all still be saying the same thing? I think perhaps not. And your right, at one point in time over 20 plus years ago smoking was allowed on planes but I would rather know that the smoke was put our properly and there was no harm done to the plane, a little spark can cause big problems don't you think, but I forgot you are all so ready to point the finger out to everyone else, again all experts in the field. They did what they had to do, and I am sure they really wanted to ask the opinion of everyone on board what they should do, so as not to upset anyone, but in the end had to make the big decision all by themselves. Oh and please don't forget all the people who were affecfted on the other end of this trip, one being a friend of mine, and again I am sure that airline had nothing better to do that day then land the plane in Bermunda and then have that plane sit on the ground,,,,, yep I believe that was the scheme right from the beginning,,, Was it ideal? No it wasn't but all were safe in the end and that is what is important, as had it turned out different you would also be upset, so perhaps all of you who know more then the airlines should tell the rest of us what should have been done and then get an airplane and put it into practice, oh and don't forget to get 100 plus people on the plane so that you have all their lives in your hands as well and then we can all sit back and tell you how wrong each and every decision you made was incorrect,,,, but thanks for making sure that I got to where I was going in one piece.

    • Johanna MacFarlane
      February 12, 2013 - 14:02

      Holy cow Penelope! it's fine to have your opinion but you definitely didn't have to be so unbelievably mean! Please don't crap on our feelings! We were the ones to live it and seriously thought we were going to die - no joke! They should have handled it differently - that's all we are saying! An example of this would be that by them saying that we were landing due to technical difficulties (and everything else that happened from that point on until we landed) created so much stress/terror for people. It has really deeply affected a lot of the passengers. They could have said that it was due to a medical emergency or any other reason then we wouldn't have thought we were going to crash and die! If you are going to respond to this post, please refrain from essentially yelling at everyone! ***Just to clarify: my post suggesting that perhaps Shellington may not have know all the facts was certainly not meant as a sarcastic insult - I apologize if anyone took it that way.

  • Lori
    February 11, 2013 - 12:33

    I am sure the crew made the decision based on standard operating procedures and their experience. I am confident to say they would not have diverted unless it really was necessary.

  • Johanna MacFarlane
    February 11, 2013 - 11:35

    To Caper: You should check out the Facebook page that has been created. We can all keep in touch and do something about the horror they put us through! I totally agree with you! First of all, they shouldn't have allowed those people on the plane in the first place! They were seen drinking at the airport by several passengers pretty much the entire time the flight was delayed (13 hours). They were obviously intoxicated upon boarding the plane and quickly drew attention to themselves before the plane even took off!!! Hearing over the intercom that we were having to do an emergency landing in Bermuda due to technical difficulties was terrifying. The stewardess had a panicked look on her face and was speaking with a quick, shaky voice. The plane descended quickly and landed hard. There were emergency vehicles on the ground ready to put the fire out as we landed 3,000 kilograms overweight because of unburned fuel (I spoke to the captain directly upon exiting the aircraft). I feel they put our lives in more danger by landing the plane and put us through considerable emotional distress by telling us we were landing because there was something wrong with the plane! No one knew what was going on! I was crying as we were going down and so were many other people! I understand that they didn't want to alert the family that the police were on their way, but they could have told us that the plane needed to land due to a medical emergency or anything else but technical difficulties! I have never ever met such unfriendly, unsmiley stewardesses in my life! They definitely succeeded in sending us all the message that they couldn't care less about the rest of the passengers on the plane! If the son really was smoking in the bathroom, no alarms went off, and no cigarette was apparently found. He obviously flushed it down the toilet or ran it under water in the bathroom and maybe put it in his pocket. If they were worried that it was still lit somewhere on the plane, we definitely would have smelt smoke and seen some kind of smoldering. Like I said before, all eyes were on them from the get go.....there is no way there was a lit cigarette in the main part of the plane or someone would have seen something! It wouldn't take long to search the bathroom as we all know how small that is! They could have waited until we landed in Punta Cana and had the police arrest them there! The entire flight was only supposed to be 4.5 hours long! The crew did not keep us informed of what was going on and totally kept to themselves. I have never stood in so many painfully long lines in my life! Just to give everyone an idea of perhaps one line we were in picture this: After waiting for hours at the Bermuda airport for a supposed plane that was being dispatched from Toronto to pick us all up (and which never did come), we were then told that we had to all go to a hotel. There was 180 passengers that had to, few by few, file into individual taxis. It took a very long time for all of us to finally arrive at the hotel. Once we arrived at the hotel, the line up was outside the door and it took forever before we were finally being checked in. The hotel only had 2 employees checking people in (not their fault - they were doing the best that they could under the circumstances). If all this wasn't enough, who pops in line directly behind my husband and I? The family that was arrested! I couldn't believe that nothing much was obviously done and that they were also put up by Sunwing in the same hotel as us!!!!! How else could they possibly show up at the exact same hotel at the exact same time as us?! What put icing on the cake for us is when they got to go to their rooms before any of us!!! I am going to stop here or else I will be writing a novel.. Trust me, there is a lot more to this story then meets the eye!

  • Non-smoker
    February 11, 2013 - 10:50

    I don't get it. Are smokes a terrorist weapon? It's a $100 fine. Sunwing owes apologies all around except for to Brazen MacNeils... and never was a plane in jeopardy from a smoking passenger (Ok, not the passenger but their cig') when smoking was not banned on planes and jets.

  • Johanna MacFarlane
    February 11, 2013 - 10:20

    My husband and I were also passengers on that flight and we have a VERY different recollection / understanding of what happened! We are very easy going people and were astounded at how Sunwing handled the situation. Perhaps Shellington doesn't know all the facts?

  • caper
    February 11, 2013 - 07:17

    I was on the plane as well, I feel the crew overreacted by going to Bermuda, they put everyones life in danger by landing the way they did, to hard (overlaoded) and to fast. Then once we landed, Sunwing crew disappeared. There were more than 10 upset, seems like everyone was except these 4...odd

    • amanda smith
      February 11, 2013 - 13:26

      Caper... please search the fb group we created! Sunwing Flight 454 to Punta Cana diverted to Bermuda!

    • Tamara
      February 27, 2013 - 17:02

      Amanda, I'm trying to find the FB site, what is it under? I was also on the flight.

  • nonsmoker
    February 10, 2013 - 17:34

    It's too bad the MacNeil;s hadn't been introduced to the Patch.