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Qantas Criticized for Child Seat Policy: Should Men be Allowed to Sit Next to Children Flying Alone?

Lia Grainger
Team Mom
August 15, 2012

Would you let your child fly unaccompanied seated next to…a man? If that sentence left you scratching your head, you're not the only one. Yet a recent media uproar has revealed that some Australian airlines require any man seated next to an unaccompanied minor to swap seats with a woman, and male passengers are crying foul.

An Australian nurse named Daniel McCluskie is making headlines for complaining that Qantas Airlines made him feel like he had a sign reading "kiddie fiddler" above his head, according to The Age. Upon boarding, McCluskie was asked to switch seats, away from a young girl who was flying alone. After the plane had taken off, a flight attendant came and thanked the woman who had swapped with him, but not McCluskie.

"I think it absolutely sucks; it's totally and utterly discriminatory in my mind," McCluskie tells The Age. "It's a complete and utter generalization."

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The story isn't an outlier. Just a few days ago, a firefighter on a Virgin Australia flight had a nearly identical experience after being forced to move away from two unaccompanied boys, reports The Australian. Virgin initially defended the rule when the man complained, but a public outcry on various social media networks prompted the airline to announce via Twitter that it would review its policy.

Public opinion seems to be overwhelmingly with the men on this one, at least in Australia.  An online poll on the topic drew more than 64,000 responses, with 87 percent of respondents agreeing that the policy is "sexist and suggests all men are potential pedophiles."

It would seem the tide of public opinion may soon do away with what most appear to believe are sexist policies, and the courts are hastening that demise. In 2010, a British Airways passenger won a settlement after taking the airline to court for policies he felt contravened Britain's Sex Discrimination Act. The ruling prompted BA to revise its policies so that unaccompanied minors now sit in a special designated area near flight attendants.

Though a policy like Qantas's aimed specifically at men seems to contradict basic discrimination laws, nearly all in-air molestations reported on in the U.S. are committed by men, according to a story in the San Francisco Weekly. Blogger Katie Baker at Jezebel proposes an interesting solution: create a rule that forbids people from switching seats to sit next to an unaccompanied minor, as (also mentioned in the San Francisco Weekly story) the majority of reported molestation incidents are committed by men doing just that.

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Here in Canada we have Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which the Supreme Court has stated is aimed at preventing "violation of essential human dignity and freedom through the imposition of disadvantage, stereotyping, or political and social prejudices." Casting all men as potential child molesters would seem an excellent example of violating human dignity through stereotyping.

According to Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick, the airline, which transports more than 10,000 unaccompanied minors a year, does "not have a policy that prevents an Unaccompanied Minor (UM) [from] sitting next to a male passenger."

"Crew are generally very diligent in watching over and taking care of UM's onboard (typically they are seated near the galley area where crew members are present) and they do very frequent checks," says Fitzpatrick.

Air Transat also says they have no such policy, however both airlines say they would do their best to accommodate parental requests to have unaccompanied children seated next to female passengers.

Do you think the policies of Virgin Australia and Qantas Airlines are discriminatory? Would you feel more comfortable if your unaccompanied child was seated next to a woman? Tell us in the comments.

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