Airline seating policy may breach Human Rights Act

By Ainsley Thomson

Qantas and Air New Zealand's ban on men sitting next to unaccompanied children on flights may breach the Human Rights Act.

Acting Chief Human Rights Commissioner Joris de Bres told the Herald the policy was "clearly discrimination" because it treated people differently on the basis of gender, which is prohibited under the act.

Mr de Bres said to justify the policy, the airlines would have to provide evidence that it was reasonable to assume the safety of children was somehow at risk from all men.

"Basically it is clear that the airline is trying to provide a safe environment for children, but it has to do it in a way that doesn't result in unlawful discrimination against other passengers - that is the nub of the issue."

The Herald yesterday revealed the story of Auckland man Mark Worsley, who was embarrassed when he was made to move because he was sitting next to an unaccompanied child on a Qantas flight.

Philip Price, from Tauranga, said he had a similar experience on an Air New Zealand flight. Mr Price was seated across the aisle from his wife and children and next to an unaccompanied child, when a flight attendant asked him to change places with his wife.

"The fact that the airline regards men in this way is totally unacceptable, discriminatory and a case of extreme political correctness."

Green Party human rights spokesman Keith Locke has written to the Human Rights Commission about the airlines' stance, which he says is moral panic.

"It is prejudicial to presume that men can't be trusted to have contact with children unless they are related to them or are specially trained."

Mr de Bres said that once Mr Locke's complaint was received, the commission would seek to set up a mediation process with the airlines to try to resolve the issue.

Air New Zealand and Qantas both stood by their policies yesterday, with Air NZ saying it made "no apology" for it.

Neither airline answered the Herald's questions about the potential conflicts with the Human Rights Act.

Nor would the airlines provide details of when the policy was introduced or what sparked it.

Air NZ spokesman Norm Thompson said the airline took its responsibility for unaccompanied children "extremely seriously".

Dunedin-based clinical psychologist Nigel Latta said the policy sent a message that "all men are pariahs".

- Additional reporting: NZPA

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