CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — Members of the Russian and Czech Republic world junior hockey teams were removed from a New Year’s Eve flight from Calgary to Frankfurt, Germany, with fellow passengers saying the Russian squad caused a disturbance by smoking and refusing to wear masks.
Calgary Police said in a statement Saturday that its Airport Unit officers responded at 5:45 p.m. Friday to reports of a disturbance on an Air Canada flight. The statement did not say who caused the disturbance or if there were any arrests, and police did not respond to requests from The Canadian Press for further information. Air Canada also had yet to respond to a request for information.
The team members were heading home from the junior championships in Red Deer and Edmonton that were canceled Wednesday because of COVID-19 outbreaks.
“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.
Czech team manager Otakar Cerny said his team was likely coupled in with the Russians by the flight crew because of the similarity of their gray sweatshirts.
“And practically only for that reason, they threw us into the same bag as the Russians and told us that the entire Czech and Russian expedition could no longer board the plane,” Cerny told Czech media.
“Air Canada representatives apologized to us and at their expense arranged a hotel and a flight to Frankfurt at the same time a day later. They also assured us that we would not fly the same flight as the Russian hockey players.”
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," Kenny told The Canadian Press from the airport in Madrid. “They kept trying to get him to turn it off but he wouldn’t. I think they were over-refreshed.”
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.
Dr. Kathleen Scherf was among a number of passengers who tweeted during the disturbance that delayed the flight three hours.
“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.”