Man Must Change Seats on Plane: He Is Seated Next to Two Minors (via Free-Range Kids)

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Hi Folks! I’ts Lenore from Free- Range Kids, where “flying while male” is not a new issue to us (see this post)  just a new airline: Virgin, in Australia. In today’s story, a man named Johnny McGirr, 33, was seated next to two unaccompanied minors — boys, about ages 8 and 10. He was supposed to sit next to the window, but switched to the aisle to let the boys look out, because he’s a nice guy.

That, however, is not how the airline saw him. When the stewardess came by she saw only that he was — accckkkk! — a MALE, and she made him move. The reason? Company policy: A woman can sit next to unaccompanied children, but not a man.

The fellow — a fireman — spent the rest of the trip embarrassed and angry. Eventually, he blogged about it, pointing out quite rightly that the assumption seems to be that every male is at least a  potential pedophile, even in public, on a plane, with people going up and down the aisles. This is what I call “Worst-First Thinking” — thinking up the very WORST case scenario and proceeding as if it is FIRST on the list of likely possibilities.  The airline excused itself by saying, “Most guests thoroughly understand that the welfare of the child is our priority.” As if it’s only a deviant who’d question this practice.

But the airline is wrong. Many people do NOT understand this panicked prejudice anymore. The buzz in Australia is that there is now a “public backlash” that has Virgin (and Qantas, and Jetstar and Air Newland) re-thinking its men-must-move policy.

Let’s hope they get it right this time, as British Airways finally did. Making people sit in a certain place because of  their DNA is something Rosa Parks fought a long time ago.  – L.

Look! Up in the air! It’s predator panic!

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55 Responses to “Man Must Change Seats on Plane: He Is Seated Next to Two Minors (via Free-Range Kids)”

  1. #1 |  Earth | 

    Sadly, it is a common view in Australia that all men are out to gobble up children. We are all craving to lick and nibble on them. I stopped studying to work with youth for I found that when people learned what I was studying, almost all people(male and female) responded to me as if I was seeking to rape some kids as only men with lustful thoughts seek to be near kids.

    I refuse to work with children here in Australia as a male. It’s just not worth the risk.

  2. #2 |  GeneralGarbage | 

    Was talking to a co-worker yesterday, and she told me that she was considering calling the police because a man chatted with a child sitting next to him on the subway. The kid wasn’t even alone, her mother was right there. Still, my friend thought that police intervention would have been completely appropriate.

  3. #3 |  Bobby V | 

    He didn’t have to sit with the black people in the back, did he? That would have really been embarrassing.

  4. #4 |  Julian Sanchez | 

    The headline on the original news story is rather unfortunate…

  5. #5 |  Warren | 

    Where to begin? First off, the flight attendant, how could he/she even feel comfortable enforcing this rule?
    What paranoid lawyer wrote this rule?
    If a man refuses to move, what will the airline do? You are not a threat to the safety of the aircraft, for not leaving the seat you paid for.
    I am not one to call for lawsuits, but in this case, with the inflight embarassment and then the follow up, if he didnt understand well he is most likely guilty crap, I would sue their butts off and donate the money to some children’s organization.
    As a side note, do not most parents, free range or not, tell their kids that if they are ever in trouble they should find a policeman or FIREMAN?

    What the heck, let’s just have every male over 14 yrs old, and when they turn 14 register on their national sex offenders registry. Some countries used to have mandatory military service, so now we can have mandatory admit you are a pervert service.

  6. #6 |  Dave Krueger | 

    It used to be that any policy could be justified “if it saved just one child”. They have now apparently dispensed with that single requirement.

  7. #7 |  Mattocracy | 

    “Making people sit in a certain place because of their DNA is something Rosa Parks fought a long time ago.”

    Exactly. This is prejudice, not safety. It’s not all that different from making a black male move from sitting next to a couple of white girls for their safety.

  8. #8 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    A few years ago, on my flight, a smart-alecky late 20-something guy went to his seat on a plane in row A, and his two friends took their seats down the aisle. 10 minutes later two very attractive
    early 20-something women sat next to him in their assigned seats, in B and C.
    Before the plane took off they approached him as he had done something wrong and told him to find another seat near the rear of the plane.
    More sexism in action? Since when can’t guys sit next to cute girls?

  9. #9 |  par4 | 

    This policy should only be used if the male is a priest or a politician.

  10. #10 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    My bad.
    “as IF he had done something wrong.”
    and “they [flight attendants] approached him.”

  11. #11 |  Ben | 

    4 or 5 years ago, I boarded a plane with 2+2 seating for a short flight, got comfortable and started reading. Eventually the seat next to me was filled by a young girl, probably around 5 or 6 years old. Her parents were sitting about 3 rows in front of us. I smiled at her and just continued reading my book. She smiled big at me and said “HI!” in a really loud voice. I exchanged a few nice words with her, and then offered her my window seat if she wanted it. She eagerly took me up on my offer. Once we switched seats, I could perceive at least 2 dozen eyes watching me as if I were the goddamned elephant man.

    No one directly challenged me, but man people were not even being subtle staring at me as if I were making some huge societal faux pas. The girl cheerfully engaged me in a conversation about what my book was about, where I live, where I was going and why, she told me about her dog, etc etc etc. I expected at any moment to be confronted by one of the passengers or the attendant, because of how they were staring.

    When we landed, her dad came to get her, and thanked me for humoring his daughter for the whole flight apologized for her bothering me the whole time (to which I obviously responded that it wasn’t any bother at all). It’s disturbing that her parents had no issue at all with the situation, but it seemed to bother about half the plane.

  12. #12 |  Randy | 

    Preach it, Sister!

  13. #13 |  (B)oscoH, Yogurt Eater | 

    Please explain this to me. How are 30-something year old women supposed to hook up with young boys if they don’t get preferential seating?

  14. #14 |  Tom | 

    Making people sit in a certain place because of their DNA is something Rosa Parks fought a long time ago.

    Tell me more about how being a white man on an airplane is like being a black woman in apartheid.

  15. #15 |  RBS | 

    Yizmo, that is horrible. Every man’s dream is that the other seat(s) on the airplane will be occupied by beautiful women.

  16. #16 |  En Passant | 

    When I was about 4 years old not long after WWII, steam engines were still in use on many railroads. I wanted to visit my grandparents (and my parents and grandparents wanted me to visit my grandparents as well).

    My parents pinned tags all over me and my suitcase with name, home address and phone, and destination address and phone. They instructed me to give my ticket to the conductor when he asked, and to behave like a gentleman. Then, to my great delight, they put me on a railroad train all alone for a trip to my grandparents a hundred or so miles away.

    I recall that they had a very brief conversation with the conductor. I think they informed him that I would be traveling alone, and asked him to make sure I got off at the right stop.

    The trip wasn’t complicated — no changes of railroad line, just get on the train and get off at the right stop.

    I was very excited and delighted to ride a real “choo choo train”.

    My grandparents met me at the station, and after my visit they repeated the exercise.

    Regarding the other passengers on the train, the worst hazard my parents or anybody else expected was that I would pester some poor unsuspecting souls to distraction during the couple hour trip.

    Today, the TSA, Child Protective Services, and every other power crazed alphabet soup government agency would have thrown my parents and grandparents in jail and made me a ward of the state.

    The memory of that train trip is my benchmark for how far the USA has gone toward becoming a nation of imbeciles ruled by psychopaths within my lifetime.

  17. #17 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 

    Off-topic:http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2012-08-09/news/a-woman-was-held-in-jail-because-authorities-thought-she-was-illegal/

  18. #18 |  derfel cadarn | 

    No we do not understand !!! I am not much of a traveler but know for sure when I do it will NOT be on their aircraft.

  19. #19 |  Amazed | 

    On a 2+2 aircraft one snowy winter day from Cleveland to Flint, MI, my nephew, then 5, sat on the aisle next to an unsuspecting man in his 50’s three rows behind and on the other side of the aisle from me. The excited and nervous 5-year-old talked nonstop to the poor man the entire flight, and not just talking, asking questions and expecting answers. The guy was very patient and kind. A couple of times that I looked back, he just smiled at me and rolled his eyes and went back to answering questions. At one point, I signaled to him asking him if he wanted to switch with him, and he laughed and shook his head and went back to answering questions. Suddenly, I heard “deafening silence” coming from three rows back. Not 5 minutes from landing, the kid had fallen asleep, laying his head on the guy’s elbow. As we got up, my brother went back to carry my sleeping nephew as we struggled with bags, and the guy, who had no luggage just picked him up, said “I got this” and carried the still-sleeping kid out of the plane, up the ramp and set him in a seat. He shook my brothers and my hand as we thanked him and apologized for his inconvenience. He said “That’s okay, it was like traveling with my grandson”. It never occurred to us to have a nefarious thought about the guy. Good grief.

  20. #20 |  Aresen | 

    par4 | August 10th, 2012 at 9:09 am

    This policy should only be used if the male is a priest or a politician.

    rotflol

    Seriously: I am a single male and I have not dared talk to a child without their parent present for over 30 years. Which is sad, because kids are fun to talk to.

  21. #21 |  johnl | 

    Especially sad in this case. Boys 8 and 10 would have most likely loved to spend the flight gabbing with a fireman!

  22. #22 |  Some Other Matt | 

    I was in a doctor’s office a few months back (25yo male at the time), waiting in the front room for my name to be called. I was a little early so I broke out a DS game to eat away the time.

    A few minutes later, some curious 8 year old boy came and asked me what game I was playing. I couldn’t even snap out of my zone before his mom poked her head out from the corner, stared daggers at me and asked very loudly, “Are you okay, ?”

    It rattled us both, and he just answered to the affirmative and walked back away from me, apparently embarrassed. The mom didn’t stop keeping tabs on me until she finished paying and left. Her eyes weren’t kind, either.

    There was something humiliating and embarrassing about the whole experience that I can’t even really enunciate into words. That by default anyone her son would talk to is a danger? That she assumed I was a threat enough to make sure I didn’t try anything, sitting and playing a video game in a doctor’s waiting office?

    I saw some little girl crying at a water park a few years later. She couldn’t have been older than six, and apparently her parents were nowhere around. My guess was that she’d skinned her knee on some of the rough concrete. In another time and another place, I might have tried to help her find her abandoned mommy and daddy, and I’m still ashamed that I kept walking, but I know I made the right choice. There’s no guarantee that her parents didn’t buy into the manias. No good deed goes unpunished.

  23. #23 |  Seitz | 

    Ben, I’m not doubting the veracity of your story, but it seems weird that a family of three with a young child would make the child sit alone while the parents took the two seats together (of course, I’m assuming they were together, but you don’t specifically make that claim, so maybe I’m reading it wrong).

    With regard to a potential lawsuit from this passenger, I’m ambivalent, but this sounds to me like a policy that was put in place in response to a lawsuit that may have been filed by some parents years ago, and the calculation was that it’s easier to make the guy move than deal with asshole parents overreacting to a harmless situation and trying to bilk a settlement out of it. My sense is that policies like this don’t arise from nothing. If that’s the case, I suppose I could say that I wish the airline had a stronger backbone, but it’s not particularly surprising. They need to protect their shareholders after all.

  24. #24 |  bbartlog | 

    ‘it seems weird that a family of three with a young child would make the child sit alone’
    Yes, except that it’s easily explained by assuming that they had an unreasonable respect for the seating assignments that their boarding passes showed. If they didn’t go to the trouble of getting the seats assigned specifically to each traveler it could easily just assign them that way, and then if they were great respecters of rules (like so many people) they’d just treat those assignments as set in stone.

  25. #25 |  Deoxy | 

    this sounds to me like a policy that was put in place in response to a lawsuit that may have been filed by some parents years ago, and the calculation was that it’s easier to make the guy move than deal with asshole parents overreacting to a harmless situation and trying to bilk a settlement out of it. My sense is that policies like this don’t arise from nothing. If that’s the case, I suppose I could say that I wish the airline had a stronger backbone, but it’s not particularly surprising. They need to protect their shareholders after all.

    I quit reading them some time ago to keep myself from going on a lawyer killing spree, but Overlawyered.com used to do almost nothing except chronicle such actual suits.

    At this point, there might not even have BEEN a suit, simply an expectation that one would occur.

    The question the airlines has to answer (to itself, really) is, “Do I expect it to cost me more in lawyers and settlements to move the guys or not move the guys?”

    That’s it. Which one hurts the least, because both of them are pretty much guaranteed to hurt some.

    Welcome to our completely psychotic society.

  26. #26 |  croaker | 

    One of these days a male passenger is going to get tired of the fascism and refuse to move. This will end in much butthurt.

  27. #27 |  Marty | 

    you think you’re done being harassed when you make it through the tsa molesters… guess not.

  28. #28 |  SJE | 

    Even if the guy WAS questionable, it would be hard for him to do anything crowded together on a plane, with lots of eyes and ears everywhere. Are they afraid he is going to abduct them?

  29. #29 |  Santiago | 

    Contact/complaint form for Virgin Australia. Ask them about their discriminatory policy:

    http://www.virginaustralia.com/au/en/help/contact-us/

  30. #30 |  Bergman | 

    Make them say aloud why they are making you change seats. Have a personal audio recorder going. Defamation is a tort. If their policy gets them sued, they are more likely to change it.

  31. #31 |  Brandon | 

    #8, that sucks for the guy. That is how I met my wife. And I would’ve been arrested and charged with terrorism if they had tried to force me to move, because that simply wasn’t going to happen unless she had asked me herself.

  32. #32 |  Reformed Republican | 

    If there is a problem with the seating assignment, move the child, not the man who most likely selected his seat ahead of time. He did not have a problem with the existing seating arrangement, so he should not have to be inconvenienced.

    Alternately, offer the guy a first class upgrade for free. He gets away from the kid, but it saves on the embarrassment. I doubt many people would decline a free upgrade to first class. It is good customer service.

  33. #33 |  Pablo | 

    #24 SJE–the level of paranoia about this is so high that there are scaremongers warning parents about how a stranger can surreptitiously molest their children in crowded public places without anyone seeing it. I kid you not–one of the local news stations had an alarmist “story” about how parents should be leery of public swimming pools and beaches because children are being groped underwater by nearby strangers.

  34. #34 |  Mike G. | 

    @ 13 I remember my first trip to visit my Grandparents for the summer. I was Seven. My folks put me on a plane in San Diego that flew directly to Boise, ID. My GP’s met me at the airport. Best trip of my life.

  35. #35 |  marie | 

    Even if the guy WAS questionable,

    How do you decide if the guy IS questionable? And what does “questionable”
    mean? Do you mean, if the guy LOOKS like he might be a sex offender? What does a sex offender look like? Do different sex offenses look different?

  36. #36 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    It’s a sucky airline policy, but on the other hand I’d be like “Oh thank God they moved me. I almost had to spend an entire flight next to two out of control kids.”

  37. #37 |  Gene | 

    Blame it on the fear campaign going around the country. See something, say something… right? “points to the man sitting next to unaccompanied kids”

  38. #38 |  Loren | 

    Several years ago, I, a single male (~24), was on a cross-country flight where I was seated in the front row of coach. The only person seated next to me was a young kid.

    And let me say: best flight ever. The front row meant plenty of legroom, and the kid took up very little space. I left him alone, he left me alone. He was quiet and behaved, and the whole experience wasn’t much different than being next to an empty seat.

    So yeah, if I got moved from that arrangement because the airline automatically assumed I was a pedophile, I’d be kinda ticked. Because my *new* seat could easily find me stuck next to someone who’s overweight or smelly or otherwise irritating.

  39. #39 |  Aresen | 

    Mike G. | August 10th, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    I remember my first trip to visit my Grandparents for the summer. I was Seven. My folks put me on a plane in San Diego that flew directly to Boise, ID. My GP’s met me at the airport. Best trip of my life.

    I almost believed this could be the ‘best trip of your life’ until I noticed the part about Boise, ID.

    ;P

  40. #40 |  En Passant | 

    @ #34 Aresen — Modern life is sometimes cruel. I always said those newfangled aeroplane things meant nothing but trouble.

  41. #41 |  Friday Roundup of Interesting Posts #1 | 

    […] Skenazy (Twitter) @ Free-Range Kids blogged via The Agitator about a man who sat next to 2 unaccompanied kids on an airline and was asked to move because […]

  42. #42 |  B | 

    As a 30-something man, I would like to state for the record that should I find myself seated next to an unaccompanied child on a plane, I would like nothing more than to be moved to another seat.

    (But yeah, the whole implied accusation of pedophilia thing…not so much.)

  43. #43 |  Santiago | 

    Pretty big story in many Australian newspapers:

    http://www.smh.com.au/travel/travel-incidents/virgin-policy-change-after-male-passenger-was-moved-away-from-children-20120810-23zr1.html

    http://www.watoday.com.au/travel/travel-incidents/seat-swap-outcry-moves-virgin-to-think-again-20120810-23y7q.html

    http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/travel/travel-incidents/seat-swap-outcry-moves-virgin-to-think-again-20120810-23y7q.html

  44. #44 |  SJE | 

    @31 I’m just saying that the risk harm to the kids is so low that we don’t need to screen passengers. Its a panic for a non-existent (or very very low probability) threat.

  45. #45 |  missjanenc | 

    I used to work for US Airways and it is not uncommon for families to get split up, especially on crowded flights and if the parents didn’t specify the third person in their party was a child and requested they all sit together. On the other hand, maybe the parents enjoyed the break!

    I was fortunate to have flight privileges for my family and my two sons flew cross country all the time to see their grandparents. Both of them were very outgoing and it was not unusual for them to befriend the flight attendants straight off and end up walking the aisles collecting headsets, trash, etc. Since they flew standby they were often split up but had no qualms about talking to their fellow passengers. This is how kids gain social skills, overcome shyness and learn to interact with the human race. They’re both in their 30s now and have families of their own but I’d alnost hate to see what would happen if they were to sit next to a kid in the present worst-case scenario world.

  46. #46 |  EBL | 

    They should have moved him to first class or give him some sort of comp to appease him.

  47. #47 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    Let’s talk straight–Wilbur and Orville Wright were probably in it for the young’uns.

    Why do you think they called them Kiddy Hawks?

  48. #48 |  Xenocles | 

    Let’s say that by some awful stroke of luck you seated the worst pedophile in history next to a child. What do they think is going to happen? The kid is surrounded by people who are one scream away and he has a button that summons a member of the flight crew. The airplane is probably the safest part of the entire trip for an unaccompanied minor.

  49. #49 |  Ken Hagler | 

    That’s especially true if the flight originates in the US, where the minor has to submit to being either molested or photographed nude by the TSA before being allowed on the plane.

  50. #50 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @47 – It’s fortunate I was only drinking water ^^

  51. #51 |  Ben | 

    #23 | Seitz

    Doubt it all you want. I don’t know whether they did it on purpose because they wanted a couple hours of peace and quiet, or whether they didn’t realize that you can switch seats and the airline doesn’t care. I assumed the former explanation as it was happening. Regardless, my whole point is that it wasn’t a big deal, so who gives a crap either way?

  52. #52 |  Mike G. | 

    @ 39 Hey, it was 1965, I was a kid and we were going to my GP’s farm in Greenleaf. What could be better than that? ;)

  53. #53 |  liberranter | 

    Alternately, offer the guy a first class upgrade for free. He gets away from the kid, but it saves on the embarrassment.

    I would LOVE to see a lawsuit arising out of this the terms of which mandate that any airline requiring a man to move under circumstances like those described here must AUTOMATICALLY get a seat in first class. I’ll bet there would be a lot fewer requests of this type made.

    I doubt many people would decline a free upgrade to first class. It is good customer service.

    The last thing that the airlines, especially the American domestic airlines, are interested in providing is good customer service.

  54. #54 |  Warren | 

    Upgrade to first class? Move the kids?
    This isn’t about crappy customer service!
    This is about how all men are currently presumed to be predators, perverts and need to be monitored and contained.
    The better way to handle this, from a customer service point of view, is not to have this damn policy in the first place.
    What could the airline do if he refused to move?
    He is not acting in a way that implies a threat, so they would be SOL!

  55. #55 |  Stephen | 

    “Alternately, offer the guy a first class upgrade for free. He gets away from the kid, but it saves on the embarrassment.”

    Unfortunately, that only works:

    1) if the guy & the kid aren’t already in first class; and
    2) there is at least one free seat in first class.

    It also assumes that the guy is unaccompanied himself.

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