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Smoking Family on Plane Update: Canadian Tour Operator May Sue for Cost of Flight Diversion

Travelers Today       By    Amanda Woods

Updated: Feb 05, 2013 05:18 PM EST

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Sunwing Travel Group, a Canadian tour operator, may sue a Cape Breton family for $40,000 -- the cost of a flight diversion to Bermuda after the parents and son smoked on a plane Friday night.

As reported on Monday, the plane, flying from Halifax, Canada to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, was forced to land in Bermuda when three smoking passengers refused to put out their lights.

Daryl McWilliams of Sunwing told MacLean's that the airline had to pay for 180 passengers' overnight fees and get a mechanic for the plane, a cost that it may try to recover in a civil action.

McWilliams told MacLean's that the flight landed because the flight attendants believed the family was smoking -- but David McNeil Jr., 22 (the son), denied smoking on the plane, and the charges were dropped. The plane continued on its way to Punta Cana on Sunday, MacLeans reported.

Prosecutor Carrington Mahoney alleged that McNeil Jr. and his parents, David McNeil Sr., 54, and Donna McNeil, 52, disobeyed orders to return to their seats after arguing with flight attendants about bathroom usage during take-off, MacLean's reported. Minutes into the flight, the court heard that McNeil Jr. went to the bathroom - and prosecutors said crew members asked him to return to his seat and not walk around the cabin until the captain turned off the seatbelt sign.

The father allegedly also attempted to use the bathroom and was told to sit down - and the mother later requested that her son be allowed to use the toilet, MacLean's reported.

Once the seatbelt sign was deactivated, the son used the bathroom and then returned to his seat, but his father got up afterwards and cursed at a flight attendant, prosecutors said, according to MacLean's. The son used the restroom afterwards, and emerged smelling strongly of cigarette smoke. When a crew member searched the bathroom and couldn't find a cigarette butt, the crew decided to divert the plane to Bermuda and remove the family, MacLean's reported.

MacLean's reported that although the father pleaded guilty to behaving in a disorderly manner and using abusive and offensive language, and the mother pleaded guilty to disobeying a lawful order by a flight attendant - the son denied the charge of smoking on the plane, and he and his father both denied disobeying a lawful order. The charges were dropped after the Crown did not offer any evidence to defeat the denied charges, according to MacLean's.

The family's lawyer, Victoria Pearman, said the three travelers were stressed because of delays in the flight's departure. She called the flight crew's response "heavy-handed" and added that the son "urgently" had to use the bathroom.

"It just seems that this could have all been done another way," Pearman told MacLean's. "Even though all offences before this court are serious, given the human element of this, the court may consider that this is a one off and unlikely to happen again."

Both David and Donna McNeil were fined $500 each - an amount that must be paid immediately, or they could face a prison sentence of 10 days, according to MacLean's.

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