Did British Airways go too far to "protect" an unaccompanied minor?

David Landsel, January 21, 2010
Fares from Washington DC:

    One passenger thinks so.

    Mirko Fischer probably wasn’t expecting to be singled out as a potential pedophile on his British Airways flight out of London’s Gatwick Airport last April.

    Fischer, a businessman who was heading home to Luxembourg with his pregnant wife Stephanie, took his seat on the plane – in the middle of the row, between his significant other and a 12-year-old boy he’d never met.

    Just before takeoff and without warning, a flight attendant leaned in and gave Mr. Fischer the bad news: He’d need to change his seat. Refusing to do so, the attendant explained that the plane would not depart until he complied. Understandably humiliated and embarrassed, Fischer moved, but that was just the beginning – the 33-year-old hedge fund manager is now suing British Airways on grounds of sex discrimination.

    “This policy is branding all men as perverts for no reason,” Fischer told London’s Daily Mail; the case will be heard next month. Fischer says he will donate any compensation he receives to the UK's National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

    Does British Airways really have a policy that demands cabin crew arbitrarily reseat passengers it deems unfit companions for unaccompanied minors on its flights? Like all airlines, it no doubt has strict guidelines that include taking special precautions that the child is not lost in the shuffle. The most typical security measure is to seat solo-flying children as close to a galley and cabin crew as possible, in order to keep an eye on them.

    JetBlue spokesperson Mateo Lleras says that the airline will generally try to keep the unaccompanied minor “somewhere close to the front of the plane” and in plain sight.

    Tim Smith, a representative for American Airlines, says that the airline does “routinely place the unaccompanied minors in seating areas where our flight attendants can easily monitor and interact with the children.”

    American would not, he states, “routinely move male (or female) passengers away from unaccompanied minors without cause.”

    Then again, there’s always the possibility that British Airways does not do so either.

    New York-based BA spokesman John Lampl couldn’t go into details due to pending litigation, but did supply an official statement from the airline saying that there was an internal investigation currently underway, and that the airline had been “looking at a potential settlement by meeting the customer's claim before this issue received any media coverage.”  

    But isn't it a bit late for that?

    How would you react in such a situation?

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