A man was thrown off a WestJet flight for falling into a deep sleep during the safety video. But was it justified?
Stephen Bennett recently suffered a stroke and cannot walk without assistance. He and his wife and son were headed from Vancouver to Cayo Coco, Cuba via Toronto. As Bennet settled into his seat on the second leg of the trip, his own legs were hurting and he felt exhausted. Like many passengers, he popped a (doctor-prescribed) sleeping pill and was soon asleep.
As flight attendants made preparation for takeoff, one instructed Bennet’s wife to wake him up for the safety demonstration. She nudged him and when he did not respond, left him alone. The flight attendant returned and demanded once again that he wake up. Bennet was shaken awake and passengers around him affirmed that he overcame his grogginess and was alert after about five minutes.
A nurse onboard examined Bennet and deemed him fit to fly. That was not enough and flight attendants called paramedics onboard. They took him off and also verified he was fine. Furthermore, Bennet called his doctor and managed to receive a quick e-mail also verifying that he was fit to fly.
All that was not enough. The crew would not let him back onboard.
WestJet Blames Passenger + Defends Flight Attendants
WestJet offered to book Bennet on the next flight to Cayo Coco…a week away. And it’s not like his family could go on ahead of him when he relied upon their assistance for his special needs.
Bennet claims WestJet agents talked down to him, repeatedly blamed him for what happened, and did not even show empathy. He ended up spending over $1000 to get to Cuba and still lost two days of vacation.
Despite this, WestJet is defending the flight crew involved. A spokesperson told CBC News:
It is the crew’s duty to assess and refuse anyone who may not be fit to fly…These decisions are not taken lightly, but are made for the safety of the guest in question, other guests on the aircraft and our crews. We stand by our crew’s decisions and believe that what we have offered to this guest is reasonable under the circumstances.
WestJet also points out that they upgraded Bennet on the return trip.
I’m not wholly dismissing WestJet’s side of the story. The crew felt that Bennet was essentially intoxicated. It wasn’t by liquor, but by prescription drugs. These drugs made him groggy and incoherent, potentially endangering himself and other passengers in case of an emergency.
But think of the ramifications of that argument. This wasn’t irresponsible over-consumption of alcohol. This was a doctor-prescribed pain reliever to help him fight intense leg pain. In a sense (hopefully a temporary sense), Bennet has a disability. We don’t tell disabled people that they are not allowed to fly because they may present a safety risk. Indeed, they do pose a safety risk, yet society has determined that protecting their access to modes of transportation is essential for them to enjoy equality. And to say Bennet was not fit to fly because of his recent stroke requires you discount the advice of the nurse, paramedics, and his own doctor.
I think this is a sad story. Bennet has now promised to sue WestJet and is seeking additional compensation. Fine, though he’s probably better off complaining to the Canadian Transportation Agency. I think the lesson to be learned is that if flight attendants get a bad feeling about you, you’re out: no matter what the experts say.