The 'Smoking MacNeils' go viral, but at whose expense?
Published Wednesday, February 6, 2013 6:50PM AST
The story of a Cape Breton family allegedly caught smoking on a flight down south is quickly becoming the butt of many jokes, both locally and internationally.
Two disc jockeys at a radio station in Sydney say the saga of the ‘Smoking MacNeils’ has become fodder for their morning show.
“This happens to be a humorous news story and it’s localized, so we’re kind of playing off that,” says radio production engineer Donnie Green.
“Playing up a caricature of a type of Cape Bretoner that we all know is not what all of Cape Breton is,” says DJ Nikki Sullivan.
The MacNeil family of Mabou was aboard a Sunwing flight headed to the Dominican Republic last Friday night when alleged confrontations with passengers and crew forced an unscheduled stopover in Bermuda.
Three of the four family members were charged and appeared in a Bermuda court, where prosecutors alleged flight crew and the family argued over their attempts to use the bathroom while the seatbelt sign was still on after takeoff. The crew also suspected members of the family were smoking later in the flight.
- David MacNeil, 54, pleaded guilty to behaving in a disorderly manner;
- Darlene MacNeil, 52, pleaded guilty to disobeying lawful commands of a flight crew;
- The couple's 22-year-old son David Jr. pleaded not guilty to smoking on a plane, and charges were dismissed.
The elder MacNeils were reported to have each paid a $500 fine. A 16-year-old boy, believed to be the couple's younger son, was not charged in relation to the incident.
The airline has since taken off on social media – a mock photo of a Sunwing plane on a cigarette package has earned thousands of shares on Facebook – and the story is becoming a sensation even beyond Canadian borders.
The MacNeil family is featured on the American celebrity gossip website PerezHilton.com, as well as the online edition of Time magazine.
But as the spoofs and parodies of Mabou’s MacNeil family continue to grow, some worry the incident is painting Islanders in an unfair light.
“We ourselves look at it as just one family, but others might look at it and say ‘that’s the way Cape Bretoners are,’” says Sydney resident Don Thompson.
Green and Sullivan says it’s about finding the humour in an unfortunate situation, and with the viral world being as fickle as it is, they predict the talk will quiet down soon.
“We all move on to the next news story,” says Green. “We’ll have fun with it while it lasts.”
Sunwing Vacations has said it plans to take legal action against the family to recoup the estimated $50,000 cost of the stopover. That included flying down a company mechanic to inspect the plane, which had to land overloaded with fuel, as well as the cost of putting up travellers in Bermuda.
Sunwing also had to provide accommodations for those scheduled to make the return flight from the Dominican Republic, but were delayed by an extra day as a result of the incident.
Sunwing is offering the passengers who lost a day of vacation due to the unscheduled stopover a $150 credit for a future trip.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Ryan MacDonald and CTVNews.ca
David MacNeil, an unidentified young man, David MacNeil Jr. and Donna MacNeil speak outside a courthouse in Hamilton, Bermuda on Monday, Feb. 4, 2013. (The Royal Gazette / Akil Simmons)