I was quite taken with Finance Minister Michael Cullen's recent description of an unfriendly treasury report as an "ideological burp". So I'll borrow it, and embellish.
Having gorged themselves on political correctness, inscribed their policy manuals and presumably indulged themselves in an orgy of self-congratulatory training sessions, the airlines appear to have been caught in the throes of an ideological chunder. A technicolour yawn of mindless proportions.
How else to explain the policy that came to light on Wednesday this week whereby men are banned from sitting next to unaccompanied children on Qantas and Air New Zealand flights.
The logic, one presumes, is that every man is a potential paedophile, and the airlines are not prepared to take the risk. Stick a label on our foreheads, why don't ya?
Well, how about a little bit of alternative logic: There are no reliable figures for the percentage of paedophiles in the general population, but probably 98 percent of men are no more paedophiles than they are Martians, and this thoughtless, stupid, offensive, bigoted, discriminatory, damaging, derogatory, distasteful and insulting policy is surely indicative of a meltdown in the tiny brains of these organisations.
I travel on Air New Zealand quite frequently as do members of my family -- wife, sons, daughter. I use this airline partly out of necessity and partly out of residual national pride at a once-decent company. But with policies like this, I would cash in my airpoints and shift allegiances overnight.
It is an affront to all men, and more than that, to common sense. It was certainly an affront to Philip Price of Tauranga. Travelling on a flight between Auckland and Christchurch, he was sitting across the aisle from his wife and children (Wife and children -- Hello! Anybody home?). Next to him sat an unaccompanied child. A flight attendant asked him to swap places with his wife.
The policy has even brought together an unlikely allegiance of Green MP Keith Locke and National's PC-buster Wayne Mapp. Mr Locke has called it moral panic and Mr Mapp has said it is political correctness gone mad. I agree with them both, although I wish Mr Mapp would sharpen his verbal arsenal.
Dunedin-based clinical psychologist Nigel Latta, with 15 years' experience working with sex offenders and victims, said the airlines' policy was "insane" and "offensive", that the policy was sending an "awful" message to society that "all men are pariahs". That's more like it.
In fact, it is in the realms of the infamous hyperbole "all men are rapists" that surfaced from the far-out flanks of feminism during the gender wars. But here we have a supposedly mature commercial organisation, Air New Zealand, in large part owned by the taxpayer, instituting a blatantly discriminatory and gob-smackingly offensive policy.
What next? If it is prepared to effect a blanket rule towards such a large percentage of its travelling population, what might it do to minorities: the weight-challenged, the hygiene deficient, the ethnically different, the religiously conspicuous?
The move smacks of hysteria and commercial stupidity. This, after all, is a company with a huge budget spent on advertising and corporate image. Yet it still manages to come up with a policy like this.
Who invents these rules? And who trains their unrepentant public relations boffins. "Our long-standing policy (blah-blah) reflects an approach adopted (blah-blah) by leading airlines around the world (blah-blah)." Yeah, right.
I'll give Air New Zealand some PR advice for free. Revise your policy smartly, explain it openly and apologise profusely to your offended customers. If you are truly concerned for the safety of your unaccompanied young passengers, find another way. Employ specialist staff, be creative with your seating plans, offer discounted fares to passengers as travelling "nannies", offer adopt-a-child schemes for travelling families. Whatever. It can't be that difficult.
Because if increasing numbers of decent, law-abiding fathers, husbands, brothers and sons who could no more abuse a child sitting next to them in an airline seat than pilot a spaceship to Mars are tossed out of their seats on the basis that they might be paedophiles, you may find yourself haemorrhaging customers. Or worse, having to seek legal advice. And that certainly won't be for free.