VIRGIN AUSTRALIA IS reviewing a policy barring men from sitting beside unaccompanied children after a Sydney fireman was asked to swap seats because he was sitting beside two boys.
Johnny McGirr, 33, was reportedly flying home from Brisbane in April when he took his seat next to two boys, thought be be aged 8 and ten, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. However, just as passengers were fastening their seat-belts, a flight attendant came over to him and asked him to move.
When he asked why, McGirr was told it was against airline policy to seat men beside unaccompanied minors. “I said, ‘Well, that’s pretty sexist and discriminatory. You can’t just say because I’m a man I can’t sit there,’” McGirr said.
“After that I got really embarrassed because she didn’t even explain. I just got up and shook my head a little, trying to get some dignity out of the situation,” he said.
“And that was it. I pretty much sat through the flight getting angrier.”
Virgin initially defended its position, however in a written complaint to the airline McGirr pointed out that – as a fireman – it was his job to protect minors. Instead, he said, the airline had treated him as a “potential paedophile”.
“The majority of sexual assaults are [also] committed by men,” he wrote. “Does that mean that we can’t sit next to women? Should we just have a seat by ourselves and that way women and children will be protected?”
Virgin Australia tweeted that it was reviewing the policy in light of the incident:
We understand the concerns raised around our policy for children travelling alone, a long standing policy initially based on customer feedback.
In light of recent feedback, we’re now reviewing this policy. Our intention is certainly not to discriminate in any way.
In his complaint, McGirr wrote that he recognised vulnerable children must be protected and suggested the airline’s policy be changed so that unaccompanied children are chaperoned by a member of staff – or that the seat beside them is never sold.