Airline Seating Policy 'Demonizes' Men

July 7, 2008 - 7:16 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Two airlines "down under" are under fire after acknowledging their policy of not allowing an unaccompanied child passenger to sit next to a man.

The policy emerged when a New Zealand man said he was asked by airline staff to move because an unaccompanied minor had been assigned the seat next to him.

Mark Worsley was told to swap seats with a woman sitting nearby, who then moved into the seat next to the boy, about eight years old, for the 80-minute flight.

"I was pretty shocked -- I think most people would be," the 37-year-old shipping manager and father of two said Tuesday.

"I complied straight away and moved seats. But as I sat on the plane during the flight I got more and more angry about it."

Part of the problem, Worsley said, was that the plane was full. When the flight attendant arranged the seat swap, "certainly there was enough disruption that people in the immediate vicinity would have heard what was going on. I felt totally embarrassed."

He had later confronted the airline staff, who confirmed the company policy.

Worsley said someone asked him after the event why he had not simply refused to move. "But these days you can't really do that. With [fears of] terrorism, if you cause any fuss on the plane you're out walking."

"Most males in the world, I'm sure, are perfectly law-abiding, good parents, good fathers, brothers, whatever," he said. "They're basically accusing half the population of the world of being a potential pedophile."

Worsley had been traveling on a flight operated by Qantas, the Australian national carrier. Both Qantas and Air New Zealand have now confirmed that they would not seat a child traveling alone next to an adult male passenger.

Worsley came forward following the recent decision by New Zealand's opposition National Party to name one of its lawmakers, Wayne Mapp, as a spokesman on eradicating "political correctness."

Mapp, whose appointment to the post drew ridicule from the left, has invited New Zealanders to come forward with information about practices they perceive to be "PC," primarily those carried out by the Labor government.

Worsley was one of those who had approached him.

Mapp said the airline policy implied that children were not safe sitting next to men.

He found rare common ground with a left-leaning lawmaker, Keith Locke of the Green Party, who said Tuesday that airlines should recognize that "men are people too."

Decrying what he called "the moral panic about men being a potential threat to children," Locke said it was "prejudicial to presume that men can't be trusted to have contact with children unless they are related to them or are specially trained."

He said the incident clearly is a breach of New Zealand's Human Rights Act -- which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender -- and he asked a government human rights commissioner to investigate.

Some of the Green Party's policies occasionally have been labeled "politically correct" by conservative critics.

Locke said he was glad the National Party's "PC eradicator" had come out against the airline policy, but he argued that it was wrong to call it political correctness.

"The anti-PC brigade usually criticize what they see as an overemphasis on equal rights, including between the genders. The Greens are sometimes the target of their attacks, so I'm glad to see them supporting equal rights in this case," he said.

'Distrust'

The airlines did win support from one quarter. Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro, a government appointee, commended Qantas and Air New Zealand for their efforts to keep child passengers safe.

Kiro said she doubted the policy was meant as a slur against men.

But her intervention drew a strong response from the Men's Coalition, whose spokesman Kerry Bevin said Tuesday the commissioner was not fit for her post and should resign.

"Kiro is telling our children that men are dangerous to children," Bevin charged. He also called for the airlines to make a public apology.

For Worsley, the incident was part of a far broader problem, which seemed to affect Western countries in general, he said.

"Men are being demonized in the media for a long time now. I think probably this is just society's reaction -- they think, 'We'd better start tightening up on everything.' It's getting to the stage when all men are viewed with distrust," he said.

"They've already chased men out of the teaching profession, especially for young children. I wouldn't want to be a Scoutmaster now. I wouldn't want to be a Catholic priest ..."

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