Independent politician Arnold Cassola announced on Thursday morning he has filed a complaint with the Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life over The Shift’s recent report on how Air Malta passengers on a flight to London were ordered out of their booked seats to make way for Parliamentary Secretary Chris Bonett and his family.
Due to the ensuing commotion, in which the junior minister eventually got his way, the flight ended up taking off half an hour late.
After Cassola’s announcement, the junior minister, in defensive comments to Lovin Malta, acknowledged that he and his family had also made use of Malta International Airport’s ministerial lounge for their departure.
On Wednesday,7 December, passengers on board KM 116 waiting to depart for London were told to vacate the pre-booked seats they had paid for in advance. They were instead given other seats in different sections of the flight’s economy class.
When asked for the reason behind the manoeuvres, Air Malta staff told relocated passengers they had been given instructions to change the pre-booked seating arrangement to make way for “a VIP” who would be boarding the flight.
The passengers then realised their original seats had been reassigned to Parliamentary Secretary for EU Funds Chris Bonett and his family.
Air Malta staff told aggrieved passengers the junior minister had insisted that his family all be seated in the same row.
In a social media post about the incident, independent political candidate Arnold Cassola, who also received the same information, said questions he sent to Air Malta about the incident were never answered.
Cassola said he had asked the future Commissioner for Standards, whoever that may be, to investigate Bonett over the incident.
“Once this was a vacation trip for the Bonett family, and there was no emergency, illness situation or any social case, why didn’t the Parliamentary Secretary move to the free seats instead of insisting on taking the seats booked by others?
“Whoever is elected by the people must be one of the first to set an example.”
In comments to Lovin Malta, Bonett said that when his family checked in at the airport’s ministerial lounge, they were given four boarding passes scattered throughout the plane.
When asked about the crew’s comments that passengers were to make way for a “VIP”, Bonett told the news portal that he could not answer for what Air Malta told passengers at the check-in desk as his family had checked in at the airport’s ministerial lounge.
The use of the ministerial or VIP lounge at the airport comes at a steep cost per passenger – footed by the government when it is used for official business, but it can also be paid for by non-official passengers who require some extra pampering.
This latest incident comes shortly after his trip to Sicily with his ministerial BMW was revealed by The Shift.
While Cassola has already asked the Standards Commissioner to investigate that trip, Bonett has so far refused to reply to questions about who paid for his catamaran tickets and the fuel costs when he used his official government-assigned vehicle for his family vacation in Sicily.
Taking to Facebook on Thursday morning, Bonett complained that he has been “attacked” in recent months and said he looks “forward to Cassola’s request to show that this is another lie”.
Tagging Prime Minister Robert Abela and the Labour Party in his post, Bonett insisted he paid in advance so his family could be seated next to each other.
He insisted he had not asked for nor received any preferential treatment and said, once again for emphasis, that he has the receipts to show that he paid in advance, which is, after all, standard practice when travelling.