An Australian man, Daniel McCluskie, is lashing out at Qantas Airlines, saying the company humiliated him by forcing him to move because he was seated next to a 10-year-old girl traveling without her parents. The story surfaced days after reports that another man, a firefighter named Johnny McGirr, had been forced to trade seats with a woman on another carrier, Virgin Australia, because he had been seated next to two unaccompanied boys, ages 8 and 10. Is it wrong to treat passengers as if they're a potential sexual threat to kids simply because they're men? Here, a brief guide:
Why is McCluskie so mad?
He says the airline treated him like a criminal, and the woman who switched seats with him like a saint. "It seemed I had this sign I couldn't see above my head that said 'child molester' or 'kiddie fiddler,'" said McCluskie, a nurse. He got even angrier after a flight attendant thanked the woman who moved next to the girl, but not him. "It's totally and utterly discriminatory," he said.
What did the airline say?
Qantas confirmed the policy, but said it rarely moves passengers. Usually, it ensures that male adults aren't placed next to unaccompanied minors when passengers are assigned their seats. A Qantas spokesperson said the policy is consistent with other airlines' protocols, and "reflects parents' concerns and the need to maximize the child's safety and well-being." Virgin Atlantic, which faced a similar backlash after moving McGirr away from two unaccompanied children on a flight in April, said on Friday that it would review its policy. British Airways, which had a similar policy in place, began seating unaccompanied minors in their own special section after being successfully sued for sexual discrimination by a man who'd been asked to move in 2010.
Are the carriers being unfair?
Of course they are, says McGirr, 33, at The Rant Nation. "Not all men are pedophiles or rapists and we shouldn’t be made to feel this way." Thanks to the rise in "stranger danger" paranoia that grotesquely "constructs men almost exclusively as potential predators," says Karen Brooks in Australia's Herald Sun, normally open-minded women feel able to "declare openly and without risk of being called to account, that they feel comfortable with Virgin's stance." Get over it, says Cynthia Dermody at The Stir. "As a parent, I think this policy is an excellent one for protecting kids. As a passenger, this is an even [better] policy, because who wants to sit next to a kid on a plane when you absolutely don't have to"?
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