WestJet to remove unmasked passengers from flights and ban them for a year

WestJet says it's prepared to remove passengers who refuse to wear a mask on flights. In addition, the airline will put those passengers on a year long no-fly list. They're two of the tougher COVID-19 measures the airline will take beginning in Sept. 1.

Measures take effect Sept. 1, airline's CEO, Ed Sims, says in interview with CBC News

A Westjet employee assists a passenger at Calgary airport. The company has announced tough new rules related to wearing masks on its flights. (Colin Hall/CBC News )

WestJet is taking tough new measures beginning next week against passengers who refuse to comply with federal masking rules on flights.

The airline says it will go as far as booting passengers off flights who consistently refuse to wear a mask or face covering while on board. 

"If the plane has not left the ... [ground] and somebody refused to wear a mask, we will return to the gate," WestJet president and CEO Ed Sims said in an exclusive interview with CBC News.

Sims said in "extreme circumstances" — if passengers continue to ignore masking rules — the plane will turn around and return to its point of origin.

Transport Canada requires everyone over the age of two wear a mask on board all flights. A recent order added that only those with an official doctor's note are exempt from mandatory masking.

WestJet says it hopes to avoid the extreme measures of ejecting non-compliant passengers, seen with increasingly regularity on U.S. carriers.

"I have an obligation and a duty of care to our staff," Sims said. "I also have an obligation to every other guest. So my focus is on the 99 per cent of guests who continue to wear masks."

Ed Sims, president and CEO of WestJet, speaks during an interview in Vancouver. (CBC News)

On Friday morning, the airline will announce that effective Sept. 1, it will implement an escalating response to those resisting mask use: 

  • Guests will first be asked to put the mask on by cabin crew.
  • An official warning will be issued that mask compliance is necessary.

If those two measures don't get passengers to don a mask, there will be long-term sanctions. Sims said those guests will be put on a year-long no-fly list. 

"We will let those guests who are in wilful non-compliance know that they will be suspended from flying.

Air Canada says, as a rule, it doesn't publicly discuss safety and enforcement measures, but it did confirm it has "a graded approach, up to and including travel bans, to promote compliance with facial covering requirements."

Air Canada will only say it has had a small number of incidents with passengers refusing to wear masks.

'This is not just a one and done'

WestJet says it has had 30 issues with passengers refusing to wear a face covering. Sims said that number may increase. "We are taking this opportunity to say this is not just a one and done," he said. "If you decide to be in non-compliance, you're going to be paying that price for at least the next 12 months." 

University of Calgary infectious disease specialist Craig Jenne says tough mask rules on planes are needed because physical distancing isn't possible, "We need to bring in those other layers of protection such as wearing a mask to avoid droplets spreading to the people not only near you but perhaps circulating the air and even getting to distal rows on the plane."

Also beginning Sept. 1, WestJet will require all passengers to provide contact information at check-in, regardless of whether that happens online or in the airport. Passengers will no longer be able to bypass that step. 

The goal is to be able to provide health authorities with the information for rapid contact tracing should a passenger on a flight test positive for the coronavirus. 

WestJet says it is working with the Vancouver airport and researchers to develop a pilot program where passengers on certain flights will be tested for the coronavirus to determine if pre-flight testing can help reduce the spread.

WATCH | WestJet's CEO explains why the airline is cracking down on unmasked passengers:

WestJet could ban passengers who refuse to wear masks: CEO

2 years ago
Duration 2:01
WestJet's CEO tells CBC News that the airline is cracking down on masks on its flights, saying passengers who refuse to wear one could face a year-long ban.


  • A previous version of this story included an incorrect photo cutline describing the people pictured as WestJet passengers at the Calgary International Airport. In fact, they were not WestJet passengers and were at the Pearson International Airport in Toronto.
    Aug 28, 2020 2:21 PM ET


Carolyn Dunn

National reporter

Carolyn Dunn is a longtime national reporter for CBC News. Her Canadian postings and assignments have taken her from St. John's to Calgary. She has reported extensively abroad including East, West and North Africa and has done several tours in Afghanistan. Have a story tip? Email

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