10th Aug 2012 4:11pm | By Laura Chubb
Virgin Australia has announced that it will review its policy of not allowing men to sit next to children travelling alone.
The airline was criticised after a Sydney fireman told Australia's Fairfax Media how he was forced to move seats on a flight from Brisbane after it was noticed he was sitting next to two young boys.
Johnny McGirr, 33, told the news outlet that when he asked the flight attendant why he was being asked to move, he was told: "You can't sit next to two unaccompanied minors."
McGirr told Fairfax Media: "She said it was the policy and I said, 'Well, that's pretty sexist and discriminatory. You can't just say because I'm a man I can't sit there,' and she just apologised and said that was the policy."
He then told how the attendant asked a female passenger to swap places with him. McGirr said the crew member said to the woman, "Can you please sit in this seat because he is not allowed to sit next to minors?"
"After that I got really embarrassed because she didn't even explain. I just got up and shook my head a little, trying to get some dignity out of the situation," McGirr added.
Virgin Australia has said it will review the policy after the news story sparked a backlash.
Via Twitter, the carrier said: "We understand the concerns raised around our policy for children travelling alone, a long-standing policy initially based on customer feedback.
"In light of recent feedback, we're now reviewing this policy. Our intention is certainly not to discriminate in any way."
More than 44,000 readers voted in a Fairfax Media online poll that asked if the policy was fair.
A massive 87 per cent of respondents agreed the policy was "sexist and suggests all men are potential pedophiles".
One person posted on Virgin Australia's Facebook page: ‘‘As a male school teacher, it saddens me that men are turned away from being a positive role model for children, because people have the attitude ‘male = potential molester’.’’
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the BBC reported Qantas and Air New Zealand had a similar policy in 2005, after a businessman sued British Airways for sex discrimination after he was moved away from an unaccompanied child on a flight.