January 28, 2013 Of Men and Minors: Dealing with unaccompanied minors.
Families all over the world pack their children off on to planes on a daily basis. As part of that if the children are not old enough to handle travel by themselves the families either ask for or the airlines demand they use their unaccompanied minor service. Generally this involves an airline staff member escorting the minor all the way on the plane, alerting the crew, a staff member escorting the minor if there is a connection, and having a family member escorted to the gate to pick up the minor. The legal side of the unaccompanied service is a little dicey, where parents and family members can make decisions the airlines are bound the law. If parents don’t like the seating arrangement on the plane they can ask people to move, airlines however are limited in what they can do.
This past month two incidents were reported one with KLM Airlines and the other with Air New Zealand. The situation was the same on both flights, an adult male passenger was asked by the flight crew to change seats because they were originally seated next to an unaccompanied minor. According to the articles, KLM asked because the child needed to sit next to “a mother,” on the Air New Zealand flight is was because the passenger was seated next to an unaccompanied female minor.
http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/travel/187459521.html?refer=y (I’m pretty sure the reporter meant to say Intercontinental flight)
Previously Qantas, British Airways, and Virgin Australia both got into trouble for asking male passengers to move. In fact British Airways actually lost a civil suit and had to pay damages to the adult passenger. Currently, for flights that fall under US DOT regulations discriminatory seating policies are prohibited.
With 49% of the world population being male, it is a coin flip as to which gender a person is sitting next to. Now I do not want to get into a debate on which gender is more likely to hurt children. If you want to do that it’s fine with me the comments are to the right. What I want to point out is the catch-22 the airlines are. When the airlines accept the child, they take on a guardian type roll. IE, they become legally responsible for the well-being of the child from the moment of the acceptance to the time they turn the child back over to a family member. If anything were to happen to the minor, the airline would be responsible. While people get angry when discrimination occurs it pales in comparison against the multi-million dollar judgment for hurting someone’s kid.
For the airline they almost have to look at from a risk management stand point, balancing the very small risk that something will happen versus the very large judgment when something does happen. It is clear that some airlines have decided to mitigate the risk by engaging in discriminatory behavior. Is this a case of a few horrible individuals ruining travel for the rest of us or are the airlines justified in discriminating against men seated next to children? What do you all think?