Most of us, if we were seated next to an unaccompanied minor on a airplane and were asked to move, would likely consider it our lucky day. After all, polls show the majority of flyers want nothing to do with children, going so far as demanding child-free sections on planes.
But then, most of us are not Mirko Fischer, the hedge fund manager who single-handedly got British Airways to change its policy banning men from sitting next to boys and girls travelling solo.
Fischer’s saga began last year, when a British Airways flight attendant told him he could not remain seated next to a young boy who was flying unaccompanied. Fischer sued, claiming it was discriminatory to treat a man sitting next to a young boy as a potential molester. As he told the BBC, “I felt humiliated and outraged. They accuse you of being some kind of child molester just because you are sitting next to someone.”
A court last month sided with the hedge fund manager and now British Airways says it is changing its policy.
This is not just a victory for Fischer, but a victory for all of us who are seeking to make parenting an equal opportunity experience for moms and dads. It is not, after all, simply enough for us to insist on co-parenting, or demand that our male partners do their fair share of the childcare. For true change to occur, society needs to treat men and women equally when it comes to how we expect them to relate to kids. That means ending the all–too-automatic automatic default assumption that women are the more capable sex when it comes to caring for the smallest among us. Every time someone insists females are more trustworthy with children — whether it’s a flight a flight attendant on British Airways declaring that only the fairer sex can be trusted to sit next to a young boy travelling without a parent or it’s a teacher instinctively emailing mothers and not fathers when volunteer help is needed in the classroom — their supposed praise is, in fact, reinforcing the existing social order, an order where women are still mostly condemned to a second tier status outside of family life and men are equally damned when it comes to the worlds of emotions and the home.
So what do you think? If your child was flying solo, would you prefer him or her to be seated next to a man or woman, or do you not care at all? Do you see Fischer as an unexpected feminist hero, or was he making the proverbial mountain out of a molehill? Tell us why you think what you do. And one thing you might want to know: Fischer’s case is quite unlikely to repeat in the United States. Our airlines are barely capable of tracking the children who are travelling with them, never mind monitoring where they are actually sitting.
Photo: Eric Lytle