Moral Panics

Fear of perverts in aircraft


Moral Panics Index


Perverts in Aircraft

News Reports 2 : Dec 1-3 2005

The Dominion Post
December 3 2005

Give the kids ejector seats

Many men are clearly aggrieved at an airline policy that does not let them sit next to a child flying alone. What on earth is wrong with them? Why aren't they delighted? Many a hassled airline passenger chatted up or spewed on by a precocious ankle biter would be thrilled

Not Auckland father Mark Worsley, the man who sparked the debate. He revealed this week that he had been offended when asked by an airline steward on a Qantas flight north from Christchurch to change seats with a woman sitting two rows in front. He had, it turned out, been erroneously seated next to a young boy flying alone. He moved, then seethed.

The airlines -- now keeping their heads down given the storm that has broken after publicity about the policy -- presumably want to remove any risk of abuse to children temporarily in their care. Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro commends them for the thought that has gone into the policy. Really?

No one -- not Dr Kiro or anyone else -- has justified it by citing an incidence of child abuse on airlines involving an adult male and wee Areta or Keanu sitting alongside him. They ought to.

Meantime, the row has given National's fearless -- and toothless -- political-correctness eradictor, MP Wayne Mapp, a new bone to worry at. Harrumphing that this is another example of political correctness gone mad, he asks: "What do they think men are going to do that women won't? It is the same as saying men shouldn't sit beside children on a bus."

Radio talkback and newspaper letters to the editor columns have given vent to much male fury since the policy became public. Anthony Frith wrote to us saying it was no wonder men felt marginalised. Simon Casey called the thinking behind the policy "stupid". Jonathon Harper believes it contravenes human rights law, and might be right -- the Human Rights Commission will investigate.

Ian Armstrong, however, raised a more pertinent point. Because research showed that children are more at risk of abuse from their parents than strangers, he said, "will Air New Zealand ban fathers from sitting next to their children on flights?"

Though the policy is indubitably well meaning, it is likely to have been introduced as a defensive strategy against any airline being sued by parents for failing to care for their smallest passengers properly. Whether youngsters should fly alone is another question entirely. Perhaps dispatching the offspring is a parental attempt to regain sanity.

Rather than ditch the "avoid men" dictum, Air NZ and Qantas should apply it equally. The reality is that many women do not wish to sit next to what airlines call "unaccompanied minors" either, and would be relieved if they did not have to. And, as Casimira Kerr writes on this page today, women who have chosen not to have kids want nothing to do with them at all. Few enjoy being cooped up with a projectile-vomiting pre-teen for hours inside a sardine can.

Anyone who has boarded a plane at Heathrow, warm at the prospect of returning to Aotearoa, knows well the dread that descends when, struggling into cattle class, they hear the nearby piercing wail of a baby or the grizzle of a thwarted toddler. Memo to the airlines: best to ban kids altogether.