Qantas and Virgin Australia Airlines have recently been criticized for their seating policy, which prohibits adult men from sitting next to unaccompanied minors.
This policy, originally designed to guarantee the safety of children when flying alone without parental supervision, is considered by many to be an outrageous discrimination against men.
Daniel McCluskie, a nurse, was forced to switch seats with a woman on a recent Qantas flight when a flight attendant realized that he was sitting next to an unaccompanied young girl about 10 years old.
After inquiring the flight attendant why he was moved, McCluskie was told that it was the policy of Qantas not to allow men sit to next to non-related unaccompanied children.
A Qantas spokesman confirmed the policy, and said that it is consistent with other airlines around the world and is designed "to minimize risk". He explained that the policy reflects parents' concerns.
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"After the plane had taken off, the air hostess thanked the woman that had moved but not me, which kind of hurt me," McCluskie said.
"It appeared I was in the wrong, because it seemed I had this sign I couldn't see above my head that said 'child molester' or 'kiddie fiddler' whereas she did the gracious thing and moved to protect the greater good of the child."
The spokesman stated that usually the airline would try to pre-seat children in the most appropriate areas, but occasionally because of late-booking, the flight attendants will have to respectfully ask male passengers to change seats after boarding the plane.
A passenger flying with Virgin Australia airline also experienced a similar situation.
Johnny McGirr, a fireman whose job entrusts him to look out for the welfare of children, was not trusted by the airline to sit next to two young boys aged 8 and 10 years old. He was asked to switch seats with a fellow female passenger, whose gender alone guaranteed her suitability under the airlines' policy.
McGirr said that he felt humiliated and embarrassed as people began to turn around to look at him on the plane.
"[The attitude of the airline] is 'we respect you but as soon as you board a Virgin airline you are a potential pedophile', and that strips away all the good that any male does regardless of his standing in society, his profession or his moral attitudes," he said.
After the stories of these two passengers were published online, many readers expressed their concerns over this policy.
One person wrote on Virgin Australia's Facebook page: ''As a male school teacher, it saddens me that men are turned away from being a positive role model for children, because people have the attitude 'male = potential molester'.''
In 2010, British Airline was sued for a similar policy in court by a passenger, who believed the policy to have contravened the Sex Discrimination Act. BA admitted that it discriminated in the case and settled by paying the passenger £2,161 ($3391) in costs and £750 in damages. The airline later changed its policy.
Regardless of how benign the intention behind the policy may be or how gracefully the airlines are able to execute such a policy, it raises questions about how it discriminates against innocent men and violates their civil rights. Qantas and Virgin Australia will likely have to balance the safety of unaccompanied children and the rights of all passengers.