Friday, 25 June 2010

Man sues BA after being asked to switch seats

But, he says, the last time he flew with BA he was treated as if he was a potential "child molester" - all because he unwittingly sat next to a boy who was travelling alone.

Mr Fischer was so angry that he filed a claim at Slough County Court, arguing that the airline's long-standing policy of forbidding men from sitting next to unaccompanied children not only cast the whole male gender in an unsavoury light, but was essentially sex discrimination.

BA is understood to have admitted sex discrimination in Mr Fischer's case and agreed to pay £2,161 in costs and £750 in damages.

The company denied the policy was discriminatory although a spokesman told the BBC it was now under review.

He said: "I felt humiliated and outraged. They accuse you of being some kind of child molester just because you are sitting next to someone.

"It is no different from stopping men from being allowed to sit next to boys in a public place but where will this stop? Are supermarkets next?

The policy of not allowing men to sit beside unaccompanied minors is to protect the child, and to protect the airline from liability lawsuits. BA was not accusing anyone of being a child molester, they were simply trying to ensure that the child was in the safest environment possible.

Actually, it is very different from not allowing men to sit next to children in public spaces. A plane is a closed environment, once you are up in the air you are stuck with each other. When a child is traveling alone it is very difficult for staff to keep their eye on him/her for every second of the flight. Therefore, they have to do whatever is possible to limit the child's interaction with other people on board - total strangers whom they know nothing about. This is especially important on overnight flights, when the cabin is often dark.

Although it may be uncomfortable when someone asks you to change seat, a selfish attitude makes this about 'you' and not about the best interest of the child. Of course you are not a child molester, but how would the airline know this? As for the message this is sending the child....what message? They are traveling alone, they know they are not supposed to talk to strangers. That's it. Nobody is sitting the kid down saying "now, in case you are wondering, we are not allowing men to sit beside you because men are very bad and they might try to hurt you." What they are saying is: "Here are some crayons and a colouring book. Push this button on your seat if you need anything."

SMW is a frequent flyer and often flies alone (and yes, she is an adult, not a child). I have been on dozens of flights with men sitting beside me and never had a problem until one overnight flight last year, when I woke up to find I was being groped by the man in the seat beside me. It was dark. Flight attendants could not see. Of course, there is no policy of "unaccompanied women" not sitting beside men, nor should there be. The situation was dealt with promptly and with the utmost professionalism by airline staff. However, I no longer sleep on planes if I am sitting beside a man and I would never allow my child to fly alone unless the airline strictly enforced a policy like BA's. It's not about you, it's about protecting the child.