Are all men potential pedophiles? If you're a passenger on a Qantas Airways or Virgin Australia flight, the answer is yes, as both airlines have policies forbidding adult men from sitting next to unaccompanied minors. Dismayed at being so negatively stereotyped, men are speaking out down under to protest this profiling. Daniel McCluskie, the second 30-something man in a week to come forward, told The Age, "It seemed I had this sign I couldn't see above my head that said 'child molester' or 'kiddie fiddler.'"
The winter (for them) media sensation started last week with Johnny McGirr, a 33-year-old firefighter, whose experience on a Virgin Australian flight sparked national outrage, The Australian reported. McGirr was sitting by two boys on a one-hour flight when a stewardess asked him whether he was in the right seat, McGirr wrote in a blog post. He explained that he had let one of the boys take the window seat. But right before the flight took off, the stewardess returned and asked McGirr to switch seats with a young woman. She explained that McGirr "wasn't allowed to sit next to children," McGirr wrote.
"I was red from embarrassment," he said. "I felt like I was being judged and found guilty of a crime I hadn’t committed."
McGirr complained. Virgin told him was a company policy, and "that they had incidents of children being interfered with before and they were all men." But bad publicity and cries of discrimination led the airline to announce that it would review the policy: "Our intention is certainly not to discriminate in any way."
Qantas' response to McCluskie's complaint has been less flexible. It's continued to defend moving men away from unaccompanied children, saying other airlines share the policy. (At least Virgin Australia, Qantas, Jetstar, and Air New Zealand do. Virgin Australia is separate from Virgin America, but the both are part of the Virgin Group.)
Unfortunately for McCluskie and other grown men flying Qantas, public outrage probably isn't enough to deter the company, which in 2005 received press for asking another 30-something man to move seats. To get anywhere, McGirr and McCluskie may just have to sue. In 2010, a man flying on British Airways said he was treated like a potential "child molester" when he was sitting by an unaccompanied boy. The 35-year-old Mirko Fischer then won £2,911 in costs and damages, or more than $4,500, and BA admitted to sex discrimination.
Of course, Australians are not the only ones who must face the messy issue of how to deal with older men. Here in the states this past summer, a 73-year-old man in an Arizona got kicked out of Barnes & Noble for being in the kid's section without a kid. His crime? Wanting to buy books for his toddler grandsons.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.