(Trinidad Express) The phone call that Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) for Tobago Peter Reyes took while the aircraft was taxiing before the flight from Trinidad to Tobago was to give directions to have a refrigerator delivered to his home in Tobago.
That’s what Max James, the passenger seated next to Reyes, told the Express in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
That phone call caused ACP Reyes to run afoul of flight regulations, resulting in him being kicked off the Caribbean Airlines flight and inconveniencing other passengers for close to three hours.
Reyes claimed he did not know how to switch off his new BlackBerry Q10 phone and was targeted by the flight attendants because he is “black”.
Reyes, who was on his way to assume duties as ACP in the sister isle, was escorted off the flight last week Thursday at Piarco International Airport.
James, a director of the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA), told the Express that when he was seated on the aircraft he noticed that Reyes was on the telephone.
Even when the pilot made the announcement to switch off all cellular phones, James said Reyes continued to carry on the conversation on his cellphone.
Reyes later explained to James that the refrigerator was a new, expensive one, which had to be installed in his new residence in Tobago and he wanted it delivered before he got there.
“For him, it was important that the fridge be dropped off,” said James.
James said the flight attendant, who was conducting her pre-flight checks, politely asked Reyes to switch off the phone.
“He didn’t like that. He said he was on an important call and was very loud. By that time, his voice began to spread. The flight attendant then went to the senior air hostess and explained the situation. Both of them were in agreement that the aircraft could not take off and gave him an opportunity to switch off the phone,” said James.
“He kept making statements like, if he was white, he would not be picked on,” he said.
James said Reyes eventually put the phone down in the bag in front of him and the flight attendant came and asked him: “Sir, could you promise to be a good passenger and not disrupt the flight?”
“The man wasn’t apologetic or anything. He just started being abusive toward the woman,” said James.
However, the phone rang again and Reyes answered it, said James.
“I thought the man had switched off the phone and I even offered to switch it off for him, but at that time the pilot had made a decision that he was a danger to other passengers and aborted the flight,” recalled James.
James said he was baffled by Reyes’s comments that he was picked on because of race.
“It was out of line and out of sync with what was actually happening. It now baffles me as to how he rose to such a high rank in the Police Service with that type of reasoning,” he said.
James said the fact that Reyes was a police officer, one expected him to have a higher standard and hold a higher level of compliance with the instructions.
He said Reyes then told the flight attendant: “If you want me to come off, I will come off,” and gathered his things to leave before the aircraft even stopped.
“Everybody applauded when he left,” he said.
James said he was surprised that the airport security guards who came to escort him out of the airport did not arrest Reyes.
“It was an arrestable offence. If this was the US, he would be in jail,” said James.
Five guards from the Estate Police Association (EPA) were dispatched to escort Reyes from the airport’s runway after the aircraft stopped.
According to a report by the Airports Authority, Reyes had committed “no chargeable offences”.
However, according to the Civil Aviation Authority Act 2001, Section 20:
A person shall not, while in an aircraft
- Interfere with a crew member or passenger;
- Do any act that threatens the safety of the aircraft or of persons on board the aircraft;
- Use abusive language or insulting words towards a crew member or passenger;
- Intentionally interfere with the performance of duty by a crew member.
The Act further states that: “A person on board an aircraft in flight who, without justification, engages in behaviour that is likely to cause serious offence or annoyance to any person on board the aircraft at any time after having been requested by a member of the crew of the aircraft to cease such behaviour, shall be guilty of an offence.”
The Act says: “Any person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $25,000 and imprisonment for one year.”
For clarity’s sake, the Act noted: “The term ‘in flight’ for the purposes of this section shall mean the period from the moment when power is applied for the purpose of takeoff until the moment when the landing run ends.”
The Sunday Express reported exclusively the statement made by flight attendants Karen Wilson and Lieko Sue Hong, which described Reyes as an “unruly” passenger who had made racial remarks.
“He continued his conversation briefly with the caller and as I stood by his row asking him to please switch off his cellular phone as the doors were closed, the engines were running and the aircraft was taxiing, he advised me that it was an urgent call,” Wilson stated in her report to CAL’s management on the incident.
“I advised this passenger that all cellular phones must be switched off at this time despite the urgency of the call. He then loudly stated to me that I was attacking him because he was not white. At this time he increasingly showed that he was angry by talking loudly to the passengers around him referring to the point that I wouldn’t pick on him if he wasn’t black,” added Wilson.
A report was lodged by the CAL crew on duty at Piarco Police Station and the matter is now being investigated by Senior Supt Glenn Hackett and by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA).
Efforts to contact Reyes yesterday for comment proved futile.