Moral Panics

Fear of perverts in aircraft


Moral Panics Index


Perverts in Aircraft

News Reports 2 : Dec 1-3 2005

NZ Herald
December 1 2005

Airlines protecting children

The revelation that Air New Zealand and Qantas have a policy of banning men from sitting next to unaccompanied children has sparked predictable outrage. Critics, depending on their stripe, have claimed discrimination, political correctness gone mad, or a blow to a society in which men are playing a greater role in the raising of children. The airlines have reacted somewhat uncomfortably. Such are the problems of balance that these issues present to society.

The airlines have chosen to keep their policy close to the chest, presumably because they anticipated an adverse response. But that decision acknowledges only the inherent friction in their approach. It does not mean their policy is wrong.

A Qantas spokesman put the issue in a nutshell. The ban, he said, was what the airline believed customers wanted. He was referring particularly to parents, the vast majority of whom would prefer their child to be sitting next to a woman, rather than a man, when flying alone. The reason is obvious: most paedophiles are male.

It is easy to think the airlines' approach is overly cautious. That they should not be deeming all males untrustworthy because of a worst-case scenario. And that such a scenario is highly unlikely, given the crowded nature of most airliners and the watchfulness of airline staff. But case after case has shown that people who prey on children are masters of cunning and trickery. And that children's innocence, inexperience and willingness to trust without question leaves them highly vulnerable.

In many ways, indeed, an airline flight represents a real risk if an abuser was to be seated near a child. Passengers are crammed together, usually for at least an hour, in a situation that demands interaction. It could be an opportunity for contact to be made which might lead to "grooming" of a child.

It is rare to see an unaccompanied child on trains and buses on longer journeys. Children usually travel in a group or have their own school-based transport. So it would be wrong to conclude that the airlines' policy sets some kind of precedent.

Those who criticise the airlines must also be careful not to play down the danger. A Huddersfield University survey suggested that one in five English children had been the subject of unwanted sexual advances outside the home. Critics should also ponder the particular problems that predators present. Most commonly, these revolve around the right to privacy when the monitoring of a sex offender's movement is at issue. The rights of the community are pitted against those of an individual. There, as in all matters bearing on such abuse, society must make the protection of children its paramount concern.

This has always been the line pursued by the police. Occasionally, that has attracted criticism. Now, it is also the policy of Air New Zealand and Qantas. If they have erred, it is only in the somewhat hamfisted treatment of Mark Worsley, the passenger ordered to change seats during a Qantas flight because he was sitting next to a young boy travelling alone. Potential problems would have been erased if the young boy had been the one changing seats.

All in all, the two airlines have what amounts to a reasonable risk management strategy - as grating and unfair as it is to men. This recognises the devious, well-organised or opportunistic nature of abuse. It also provides the maximum protection for children. There will be no complaint from the parents who trust their sons and daughters to the care of those airlines.