Would you let your child sit next to a man on a plane?

A controversial column has fired up debate about children travelling alone…

It’s a known fact that strangers pose less of a risk to our children than those already in their lives, and yet parents still feel the need to protect their kids from strangers, especially from men. It makes sense, to a point. But what about when children aren’t even allowed to be in the vicinity of strange men, even though they are perfectly innocent, ordinary people?

Parents are increasing requesting that their children not be seated next to men on flights when they are traveling unaccompanied. Is this rude? Sexist? Offensive?

Journalist and commentator Tracey Spicer doesn’t care if it offends. She was recently confronted with a situation that forced her to face her own fears for her children.

“I know it’s sexist. But I don’t want my kids sitting next to a man on a plane.” And with these words a raging debate was born. In a column written for Fairfax, Tracey spoke about the day she was faced with this situation and what she wants to see happen.

She writes:

My nine-year-old Taj and seven-year-old Grace flew as unaccompanied minors, for the first time, on Virgin last year. They were put in the last row with a bunch of other kids where doting staff plied them with treats. It was a relief to see their smiling faces at the end but I was disappointed I had no choice about where they’d be sitting.

Tracey with her daughter Grace, courtesy of Instagram

Many parents want their children sitting next to women on flights, not men, because majority of pedophiles are men. But what about these men? How do they feel about not being able to sit next to minors on flights, just in case? Do we have a right to treat all men like potential pedophiles?

In 2012, a flight crew forced a male nurse to swap seats with a female passenger because he was sitting next to a young girl traveling on her own. "It seemed I had this sign I couldn't see above my head that said 'child molester'," he said later. However there have been some incidents of children being molested on flights.


So what's a parent to do?

Instances of stranger danger are more commonplace than on planes. In fact, planes are relatively safe places for most children traveling as unaccompanied minors because they are being so closely monitored. What about when our children catch buses, or trains, or walk through shopping centres? How do we keep them away from potentially dangerous strangers then?

The fact is we can't.  All we can do is minimising risk where we can and equipping our children with the skills to remove themselves from dangerous or uncomfortable situations, right. If we can choose for our children to sit next to a woman on a plane instead of a man, then why not?

It's the choice I'd make and my husband would too. But I wouldn't want the man to be aware I had made this choice. It is up to airlines to put procedures in place to ensure men aren't made to feel like criminals when majority are not.

My husband has been on the receiving end of quite a few nasty looks from mums with kids when he's made the mistake of smiling at their children in lifts at our local shopping centre. He quickly learned that unless he has our children with him, friendliness towards other kids is not welcome.

So parents are left with an important decision to make. At what age do we allow our children to travel on their own, on a plane, on a bus and on a train? And how far do we take it when trying to protect them from potentially dangerous strangers?

What decisions have you made when it comes to your children and travel?