This week, we take a much-needed look into Virgin's preposterous policy against child abuse onboard. Can we really expect people to take outright discriminatory treatment lightly?
We have become used to Sir Richard Branson's high profile PR stunts over the years from dressing up as a bride-to-be to circling the globe in a hot air balloon. However, the latest bit of publicity out of Australia is decidedly unwelcome. It was revealed last week that a gentleman flying from Sydney to Brisbane on Virgin was asked to move seats after stewardesses noticed that he was seated next to two accompanied minors. Explaining that this was the airline's policy, the hostesses made Mr. McGirr swap seats with another passenger before giving the go-ahead for takeoff. Shocked at his treatment, the fireman decided to tell his story, entitled "My Virgin experience as a Pedophile", on a blog as well as write a letter of complaint to the airline. Not only was Mr. McGirr's treatment patently unfair, but the policy also has some serious flaws.
The policy that was applied to Mr McGirr, and that applies to any male adult seated next to a minor, is unquestionably discriminatory as it does not equally apply to women. Not only does this rule suggest that only men are capable of harming or abusing children, but that all men should be considered a threat to kids and seated as far away as possible from them. What makes the case of Mr. McGirr even more laughable is that he is a fireman, whose very job it is to protect the public from harm and it is perhaps one of the most strictly controlled professions in terms of background checks.
Aside, however, from any moral issue, the policy seems to be, in part, difficult to implement. What would happen, for example, if the woman who agreed to swap places with Mr. McGirr had refused to do so and so had everyone else the stewardesses asked? Who would they throw off the plane? The gentleman seated next to the two minors (who, by the way, had not chosen to sit next to them), or the lady who refuses to exchange places? The obvious solution to avoid any problems in enforcing this outrageous policy would be to always leave one seat free on the plane, but that would mean losing money. Decisions, decisions.
Take this other scenario. Supposing the crew managed to persuade a woman to swap seats with a man seated next to a minor but the kid was not happy with his or her new neighbour. Imagine that they actually felt safe or more comfortable with the man sitting next to them. What would the crew do then? Would they insist on enforcing their discriminatory policy regardless, ignoring the wishes of their young customers, or would they waive the rule on this occasion making a complete mockery of it? Surely they wouldn't want an unhappy kid playing up on a long-haul flight, would they? On the other hand, the guy sitting next to them will probably molest them. What to do?
Perhaps the most obvious way to get around this 'problem' would be, as one lady commented below Mr. McGirr's blog entry, to ban minors travelling alone altogether. This way, she points out, Virgin would make even more money by forcing an adult to accompany the minor(s). It would also mean that Virgin staff (women of course, as the men might abuse them) would not have the hassle of looking after the kids before, during and after the flight.
Virgin needs to take a good look at its policy and then …get rid of it.
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