Tuesday, November 29, 2005

#214 - One More Reason to Avoid Flying

If you're a man, that is.

Mark Worsley boarded a plane, took his seat, and then was asked to move. The airline needed to seat an unaccompanied eight year old boy, and airline policy dictates that they cannot be seated next to men. So Worsley, who after all is sensitive to post 9-11 delicacies, promptly moved. He spent the remainder of his flight stewing about it. It was embarrassing, he reasoned, to be singled out as a potential pedophile just because he would be seated next to a young boy. He confronted the flight attendants after the flight and was told that this was, indeed, company policy.

There are two problems with this scenario:

1. It would have to be a pretty desperate individual to attempt to engage in any sort of "inappropriate" behavior on an airplane. For one thing, an airplane cabin is hardly the kind of place you can invoke the sort of privacy I'm imagining it would require. Especially after 9-11. Flight attendants are trained to watch passengers like a hawk, and unaccompanied youth most of all. The airline assumes special liability by allowing such children to fly alone, and the potential for lawsuits means those kids are under continual scrutiny. In the United States, I'm guessing that an Air Marshall would make pretty short work of any perv who tried to get cozy with a kid like that.

2. The airlines (Qantas and Air New Zealand) who implemented this policy obviously haven't been watching the news lately. 'Nuff said.

Giving the airlines the benefit of the doubt, I will agree that on its face this seems like a genuine attempt to protect the rights and safety of a child. I have no problem with that. However, if an airline knows that an unaccompanied child is going to be on a given flight, special care should be taken to avoid the embarrassment of singling someone out. Call that seat number before boarding and talk to that individual privately. Or, if the seats aren't pre-assigned, put a sign on that seat stating that the seat cannot be taken without consent of a flight attendant. There must be better ways of handling it than to essentially shame a passenger by labelling him a potential molester.

Remember, "politically correct" is no replacement for courtesy and respect.

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