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Please move sir, lest you molest

By Peter West - posted Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The case of the man asked by Virgin Airlines to move away from an unaccompanied child has been publicized right around Australia and in the US-based Huffington Post. Obviously, it's highlighted a broad-based concern.

On a flight from Brisbane, John McGirr, a fireman, was asked to move by a Virgin Airlines steward. McGirr expressed concern about the unspoken accusation that seems to prompt the practice.

McGirr was sitting next to two boys aged around eight and ten when a flight attendant approached him and told him it was policy not to allow men to sit by unaccompanied children. According to the Brisbane Times, he "said the attendant then asked a fellow female passenger, 'Can you please sit in this seat because he is not allowed to sit next to minors.' "


Mr McGirr said when he asked why, he was told, "Well you can't sit next to two unaccompanied minors."

" 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."

"After that I got really embarrassed because she didn't even explain," McGirr said, cited in Fairfax Media. "I just got up and shook my head a little, trying to get some dignity out of the situation."

Apparently, it's not just Virgin Airlines. Many airlines seem to have a policy of not allowing males to sit next to unaccompanied children. There has been very vigorous discussion of the issue in numerous Australian newspapers. There's been some support for the policy. But most people seem to think that the airline is acting with unnecessary suspicion.

Some years ago, a businessman sued British Airways after being asked to move away from a child who was sitting next to him and his pregnant wife. The man refused, saying he wanted to sit next to his wife. The steward raised his voice, causing several passengers to turn around in alarm. The passenger finally agreed to move, under protest.

The passenger, Mr Mirko Fischer, said that the policy of branding all men as perverts was s absolutely outrageous. He complained that the airline had publicly shamed him.


"I was made to feel like a criminal in front of other passengers", Mr Fischer said. "It was totally humiliating. "

Jeff Corbett of the Newcastle Herald says that after this, children were seated by BA in a separate section of the plane.

A former federal sex discrimination commissioner told the Sydney Morning Herald "A policy formed on the basis of stereotypes about men was likely to be in breach of discrimination legislation" (as reported in The Huffington Post).

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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