Calgary

British woman says unruly WestJet passenger was 'very scary' before plane turned back

A British woman is shaken and upset after she says a drunk WestJet passenger yelled and swore at her, forcing the airline to turn the plane around.

U.K. man charged with assaulting peace officer, causing disturbance

The man whose drunken behaviour caused a WestJet plane to turn around has been fined the cost of the wasted fuel, more than $21,000. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

A British woman is shaken and upset after she says a drunk WestJet passenger yelled and swore at her, forcing the pilot to turn the plane around.

She's also angry with the airline's response to what she calls a "traumatizing experience." For her troubles, the airline offered a $250 credit to put toward a future flight.

On Jan. 4, Karen Ambler boarded WestJet Flight WS1 but instead of enjoying a quiet overseas flight home, she ended up in tears while giving a statement to police about how a man verbally attacked her.

"He said quite clearly out-loud that he didn't give a 'flying F' about anybody that was on the plane, OK, which of course is a very, very serious thing to be saying," Ambler told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday. "And I was petrified."

The man accused of the disruptive behaviour, David Stephen Young, 44, of England, is set to appear in court Monday in Calgary. He has been charged with assaulting a peace officer and causing disturbance under Canadian Aviation Security Regulations.

The Calgary Police Service has said the pilot flew the London-bound flight back to Calgary after about an hour in the air due to a passenger being unruly. A spokesperson said they believed intoxication was a factor.

Argument over washroom

Ambler booked her Christmas vacation to visit a cousin in Alberta as a way to cheer herself up in a normally sorrowful season. The holidays fall over the anniversaries of her parents' deaths.

She paid a fee for a seat with extra leg room and settled in close to the washroom.

The disturbance began, she said, when the accused man tried to go to the washroom shortly after takeoff. The seatbelt sign was on because the flight was ascending, so a flight attendant asked him to sit down, she said.

This made him upset, she said. Ambler spoke up and suggested he'd be allowed to go in a few minutes.

"The man became, well, extremely aggressive with me, saying a lot of swear words, obscenities at me," Ambler said. "He was very aggressive and pointing and shouting, very close proximity to myself."

'Very, very scary'

She said the man, who was leaning over her, was scary, and the flight attendants allowed him to use the toilet to calm him down. He then took his seat, but she said the complaints continued.

"That's obviously when the stewardesses then bore the brunt of his intoxicated aggression," Ambler said. "And then I was ushered from my seat right to the back of the plane so he couldn't come at me, which was very, very scary again for me."

Within 10 minutes, she said, the plane was turned around. Once it landed at about 8:30 p.m. MT, peace officers entered the plane to escort Young off, she said. Then all the other passengers disembarked. She was also escorted off the plane, and then was interviewed by police in the waiting area in front of all the other people.

She said she worried people might think she had known the man and was somehow associated with the behaviour.

"I'd been crying my eyes out on the plane because I just wanted to get home," she said.

With nowhere to sit near the busy gate, she calmed down in a paid-for lounge nearby until she boarded the flight to finally return to London around 11 p.m.

Little compensation

Ambler complained to WestJet and tried to seek compensation. She had spent more than $2,700 for the round trip flight between London and Calgary.

"WestJet has," Ambler said with a laugh, "insultingly sent me a $250 voucher to use their wonderful services again within the next 12 months.

"Now, considering my flight cost £1,600 and the fact that they let this man on in the first instance.... I certainly won't be using them again if that's their response to me."

Both WestJet and the flight attendants union, CUPE Local 4070, said flight attendants watch for signs of intoxication at boarding but sometimes it's not obvious.

A British man has been charged after a London-bound WestJet flight, not the one shown here, was forced to return to Calgary. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

WestJet spokesperson Lauren Stewart said it became obvious the man appeared intoxicated when the plane was in the air. The pilot turned around and landed as soon as it was safe to do so with a nearly full tank of gas and about 260 passengers on board, she said.

As for compensation, none of the passengers will be compensated beyond the $250 for Ambler because the detour is considered "an uncontrollable incident just like the weather," Stewart said. 

"So it's really unfortunate and I would apologize to her that she did have this experience and we do hope to see her on board again, but I can't speak to whether that's a sufficient amount," she said.

Still shaken up

Ambler says she's "not after money" and felt the flight attendants were kind to her and handled the situation well. But as a senior director in a British logistics company, she says she knows how to treat a customer. She argues WestJet as a company does have a duty of care.

She also says she's not sure the Calgary-based company investigated thoroughly enough to understand the "traumatizing" nature of the experience that went beyond that of a typical weather delay.

"I'm still very shaken up about the whole incident, as well. I fly a lot. It's just awful," she said.

Young made bail on Thursday. It was set for $400.

Should he be convicted, WestJet could attempt to seek compensation from him for the costs of the detour, the company spokesperson said. She would not say if the airline would attempt to do so, as the matter is before the courts.

With files from Danielle Nerman and the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with CBC Calgary. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.

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