Should Airlines Be Allowed to Forbid Men From Sitting Next to Unaccompanied Minors?

Multiple airlines reserve the right to force any man sitting next to an unaccompanied minor to switch seats with a woman. They say the policy is due to "parental concerns," but it's probably mostly due to the airline companies wanting to cover their asses; parents have sued airlines over child molestation incidents in the past.

The most recent case took place on Qantas Airlines, when a flight attendant asked a 31-year-old male nurse sitting next to a 10-year-old girl to switch seats with a woman on the opposite side of the aisle. The nurse said he was "humiliated" by the switch. "After the plane had taken off, the air hostess thanked the woman that had moved but not me, which kind of hurt me or pissed me off a bit more because it appeared I was in the wrong, because it seemed I had this sign I couldn't see above my head that said 'child molester' or 'kiddie fiddler' whereas she did the gracious thing and moved to protect the greater good of the child," he told The Age.

Is it gender discrimination to separate adult men from children solely on the basis of their Y chromosome? Predictably, Reddit thinks so, as does the Mayor of London, who says a flight attendant once tried to separate him from his own children when they were traveling without their mother. Honestly, when I first read the Qantas article, I thought it was gender discrimination, too. After all, more kids are molested at home or at school than on airplanes, and not always by men; doesn't the rule seem a little unfair?

But after doing more research, I'm not so sure. Hundreds of thousands of children fly alone — in 2008, Southwest Airlines alone transported 436,738 unaccompanied minors — and molestation incidents in the skies aren't as uncommon as I would've guessed. "Although an airplane full of potential witnesses may seem an unlikely place for a child to be molested, criminal and civil lawyers who have handled these cases say that the controlled and confined yet anonymous environment is well suited for a child predator," writes Ashley Harrell in a SF Weekly story about airplane child predators. All of the reported plane molestation cases over the past decade involved adult males. What's an airline to do?

A few less stringent solutions come to mind. What about making a rule that people can't switch seats to sit next to an unaccompanied child, given that the majority of reported cases involve men doing exactly that? Seems like a given, since no one in their right mind would want to sit next to a little kid for the duration of their flight. (The Dora the Explorer theme song is still ringing in my ears from the last time I had to sit next to a child on an airplane.) Better yet, what about seating all unaccompanied minors in a special section so that it's easy for flight attendants to keep tabs on them? What about asking parents at booking if they have a preference as to the gender of their child's seatmate? Airlines should take some responsibility when it comes to protecting unaccompanied minors, but humiliating nurses and single dads is probably not the best way to make that happen.

Nurse 'humiliated' by Qantas policy
[The Age]

Image via AndresrShutterstock.