Airline won't let men sit next to unaccompanied kids

Virgin Australia comes under fire for enforcing rule

ORLANDO, Fla. - It's something you never think will happen when you get onto a plane--being suddenly forced to switch seats because of your gender.

But that's exactly what's happening on some flights. One airline has created a controversial policy, it says, to protect passengers. And while some think it's a great idea, Local 6 found that it's against the law in the United States.

On board a recent Virgin Australia flight, 33-year-old Johnny McGirr claims he was profiled -- simply because he's a man.

"It was interesting, really ashamed -- like I've done something wrong -- and embarrassed," says McGirr.

He was sitting next to two boys -- boys he didn't know -- who were flying by themselves. Because of that, crew members forced McGirr to switch seats with a female passenger.

Virgin Australia has a policy that says men are not allowed to sit next to unaccompanied children, who are under the age of 12. The airline claims the measure keeps kids safe around strangers.

But McGirr disagrees, and complained to Virgin.

"As soon as I boarded it, I was a presumed pedophile," says McGirr.

The airline says it's now reviewing the policy, which it created based on customer feedback.

Local 6 reached out to some of the biggest carriers in the United States, and none of them has a measure like this -- and they're not considering it.  And for a good reason -- Local 6 found that such a policy would be illegal.

According to the Department of Transportation, airlines cannot seat people based on things like race, age, religion or gender.  That means they can't force a man to move if he's sitting next to children who may be traveling alone.

But despite the controversy, child safety advocates say the measure works.

"We're trying to prevent child victimization," says John Shehan, the Executive Director of the National Center For Missing & Exploited Children. "We know the overwhelming majority of sex offenders are male, so by removing that situation you're lowering the risk."

But here at Orlando International Airport -- a major hub for kids and their families -- parents are mixed about whether the policy is a good thing.

"I think it's discriminatory against men," says Patricia Bastia, who's visiting from Rhode Island. "I think it's assuming something about someone that might not be true."

"I have no idea why somebody would do that," says Marek Kukulka, who's visiting from Connecticut. "Because I'm a man, that means, what? That I'm going to do something to the children?"

"You want to protect your kids, so you don't know who these people are or anything like that, so better safe than sorry," says Sean Murray, a tourist from Texas.

Even though the policy from Virgin Australia is against the law in America, the airline gets around it here. That's because it doesn't let unaccompanied minors on board international flights from the U.S. to Australia.

But the airline says it might do so in the near future.

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