Island passenger says Sunwing was right to divert plane

Mitch MacDonald comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 10, 2013
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.
Submitted photo

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.