January 1, 2022 By By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton and Lori Ewing in Toronto
CALGARY — A group of people identified by media reports and fellow passengers as members of Russia’s world junior hockey team were removed from a New Year’s Eve flight from Calgary to Frankfurt, local police said.
The team members were heading home from the IIHF world junior championships in Red Deer and Edmonton, which were cancelled on Wednesday due to COVID-19 outbreaks on several teams.
“The team of the Czech Republic and Russia was removed from the flight for violating the mask regime. Very strict rules,” Russian coach Sergei Zubov told Russian newspaper Izvestia.
Eoin Kenny, a passenger on the flight who was in business class, said one Russian official who was seated near him was vaping in the cabin and refused to put his mask up over his mouth and nose. The flight attendants tried over and over to get him to comply with the rules, Kenny said, but the man refused.
“He was blaring Russian rock music on his phone. They kept trying to get him to turn it off but he wouldn’t. I think they were over-refreshed,” Kenny said of the Russian officials, speaking from the airport in Madrid.
“He was certainly somebody who should’ve known how to fly.”
The players on the Russian team, Kenny said, were seated back in economy and at one point another Russian man came forward and embraced the passenger who was causing the disturbance.
Kenny said that eventually, at least a half dozen Calgary police officers entered the plane and then all passengers had to leave the aircraft. He said the passenger who was causing the disturbance joined the Russian players in the departure area, where another half dozen officers were waiting.
He said the plane took off three hours late, minus the Russian team. He said he believed the Czech team was also forced to remain in Calgary, but that the team from Finland was allowed back on.
Calgary Police said in a statement that its Airport Unit officers responded at 5:45 p.m. to reports of a disturbance on an Air Canada flight.
“Upon arrival, officers assisted Air Canada staff with keeping the peace and deplaning passengers. Passengers were being asked to deplane due to a disturbance involving multiple passengers in the aircraft cabin,” the statement said. “A short time later, most passengers were reboarded, and the flight departed.”
The statement did not say who was causing the disturbance or if there were any arrests, and police did not respond to requests for further information about the incident on Saturday.
Air Canada has also not responded to a request for information about the incident.
The Canada Border Services Agency said in an email it is aware that several passengers were removed from an outbound flight in Calgary on New Year’s Eve, but it said it is not investigating the matter since it doesn’t issue fines in the enforcement of the Quarantine Act requirements.
Dr. Kathleen Scherf was among a number of passengers who were tweeting during the disturbance.
“Two hours late so far on Calgary to Frankfurt flight. The Russian Juniors team was in back, trying to smoke cigarettes, not wearing masks, not listening to attendants,” Scherf tweeted. “Cops swarmed the plane. We all had to get off while they and their luggage were removed.”
The world tournament was cancelled just four days into play after players from three teams had confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The IIHF announced seven new positive COVID-19 tests on Thursday. A member of the Canadian team tested positive. as did two members of Sweden’s team, as well as one member each from Russia, Germany and Slovakia. An on-ice official also returned a positive test.
Two players from the United States and a player from Russia and Czechia previously tested positive, resulting in the forfeiture of games.
Kenny said he didn’t believe the Russian players had been drinking, although they were loud in the departure lounge. He said he believed the Czechs, who were quiet in the lounge, may have been confused with the Russians since they were wearing similar grey sweatsuits.
Kenny said many of the passengers on the flight missed their connections in Frankfurt due to the delay, including him and his wife, and had to make other arrangements when they landed.
He said the Air Canada staff were exasperated but apologetic.
“It’s good to know Air Canada has a zero-tolerance policy. It’s hard enough to travel these days.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 1, 2022.