Two years ago, British Airways found itself accused of blatant discrimination when flight attendants asked a male passenger to move away from sitting next to an unaccompanied minor.
Mirko Fisher was embarassed and humiliated, so much so, he did not let it rest and took court action against British Airways. Read more here.
Just this week, Virgin Australia has been exposed for similar discriminatory practices against a Sydney firefighter.
Public reaction against Virgin’s discriminatory behaviour against men in asking them to not sit next to unaccompanied children has been intense. A poll run by the Sydney Morning Herald shows 87% think the practice of asking men to move is sexist and suggests all men are potential pedophiles.
Poll: Is it fair to move male passengers away from unaccompanied children?
Virgin policy change after male passenger was moved away from children
Sexist Virgin outrages men
Bridie Jabour, Adele Horin, Sydney Morning Herald
Virgin Australia has promised a review after facing a firestorm of criticism from men outraged at its policy of barring males from sitting next to unaccompanied children.
The company was yesterday widely criticised after a Sydney fireman reported his experience of being asked to swap seats because he was seated beside two unaccompanied boys.
After originally defending its policy, the airline 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,” was posted under @VirginAustralia.
”In light of recent feedback, we’re now reviewing this policy. Our intention is certainly not to discriminate in any way.”
A Virgin spokeswoman said the policy was shared by Qantas, Jetstar and Air New Zealand. But this could not be confirmed last night.
A male primary school teacher on an Emirates flight from Dubai to Sydney in July told the Herald he had been asked to swap seats with his wife in order to avoid being beside an unaccompanied boy of 10.
The fireman, Johnny McGirr, 33, said on a Virgin flight from Brisbane in April he took his seat next to two boys he estimated to be aged between eight and 10. He was assigned the window seat but sat in the aisle seat so the two boys could look out the window.
However, a flight attendant approached and asked him to move. Mr McGirr said he was told: ” ‘Well, you can’t sit next to two unaccompanied minors.’ She said it was the policy and I said ‘well, that’s pretty sexist and discriminatory. You can’t just say because I’m a man I can’t sit there’ and she just apologised and said that was the policy.”
The primary school teacher on Emirates, who did not want to be named, said he was insulted, particularly as he taught 10-year-old children, and had undergone working with children checks.
The boy had been sitting in the aisle seat next to the man for 13 hours before the second crew, who came on in Bangkok, requested the move. When the man refused, having been told it was policy, the attendants carried the sleeping child to another seat.
An Emirates spokeswoman said it was difficult to get a response from Dubai headquarters because of the weekend.
Child abuse experts denounced the policy as an overreaction.
A professor of law at the University of Sydney, Patrick Parkinson, said efforts to prevent child abuse were welcome. ”But sometimes we go to extremes to avoid extremely low risks and to effectively place all men in the category of potential offender,” he said.
The chief executive of the Australian Childhood Foundation, Joe Tucci, said airlines should not move passengers on the basis of gender. It was a false premise to believe children on long-haul flights might only be at risk from the person next to them.
”The only thing that will make a child safer on a plane is how much supervision the staff offer,” he said.
A former federal sex discrimination commissioner, Susan Halliday, said a policy formed on the basis of stereotypes about men was likely to be in breach of discrimination legislation.
Mr McGirr said the attitude of the airline was ” ‘we respect you but as soon as you board a Virgin airline, you are a potential paedophile’ and that strips away all the good that any male does”.