Virgin Australia has come under criticism for a rule barring men from sitting beside unaccompanied children on flights. The airline says it will now review its policy after a Sydney fireman reported he had been asked to move seats because he was seated beside two unaccompanied boys.
While many men feel outraged at being viewed as potential child molesters, it turns out that the in-flight policy is shared by other airlines and is nothing new. In November 2005, the New Zealand Herald reported that Air New Zealand and Qantas had banned men from sitting next to unaccompanied children on flights. The policy was revealed when a male passenger on a Christchurch-to-Auckland Qantas flight complained that he was ordered to change seats because he was sitting next to a young boy travelling alone.
“At the time I was so gobsmacked that I moved. I was so embarrassed and just stewed on it for the entire flight,” Auckland man Mark Worsley told the paper in 2005.
The latest instance involves a Sydney fireman who said he was asked to swap seats because he was seated beside two unaccompanied boys on a Virgin Australia flight.
Virgin Australia announced via Twitter that it was reviewing its stance.
“We understand the concerns raised around our policy for children travelling alone, a long-standing policy initially based on customer feedback,” the airline said.
“In light of recent feedback, we’re now reviewing this policy. Our intention is certainly not to discriminate in any way.”
The Sydney Morning Herald uncovered other instances of men being asked to shift seats in similar circumstances.
The policy has drawn warnings that the airlines risk breaching sex discrimination laws. While men statistically are more likely to be sex offenders (or terrorists, or bank robbers) it is unlawful to discriminate against them on the basis of gender or stereotypes. The Federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 outlaws discrimination that results in people of one gender being treated “less favourably than, in circumstances that are the same or are not materially different, the discriminator treats or would treat a person of the opposite sex”.
Just incidentally, the same act stipulates that “breastfeeding (including the act of expressing milk) is a characteristic that appertains generally to women”. So that’s official.
While sexual molestation or indecent exposure is not common in flight, instances have occurred, setting airlines on guard. In 2011, a 50-year-old man was charged with indecent exposure after allegedly masturbating while seated next to a teenage girl on a SkyWest Airlines flight from Salt Lake City to Lewiston, Idaho.
In that case, the complainant was a high school cheerleader who had just turned 17 and was travelling alone. She became distressed after claiming that the man seated next to her had been exposing himself and masturbating under his fold-down tray table. The man denied the charge, telling police that he had spilled “Tabasco sauce or something similar” on his penis, which caused “an incredible itch” that compelled him to rub his groin uncontrollably. He denied that he was doing anything else. Asked why he did not just go to the bathroom to “take care of this problem,” the man told police that he “didn’t feel that it would help.” Police arrested and charged him.
Written by : Peter Needham