Friday, July 26, 2013

Qantas and the gender discrimination of passengers

Some airlines have a policy that states that adult men may not be seated next to minors travelling alone. The reason is that many men are pedophiles and child molesters and the airlines want to ensure the safety of the children.

That's right, Qantas is operating the new Airbus A380, which everybody should try at least once (photo by Hpeterswald)

Correspondence with Qantas

Some weeks ago, I contacted Qantas on Facebook. I left a public message on their page, asking whether their gender discrimination policies were still in place. As the page administrators were clearly busy answering other inquiries, mine did not get a reply from Qantas. A couple of weeks ago (June 18), I sent them a private message. They apologized and said they cannot find my post (even though I could easily find it).

After I reiterated my question, it took them some days to answer. They confirmed that the policy is still in place, though naturally they wouldn't call it discrimination.

Jay, one Qantas' Facebook admnistrators, wrote to me:
We can confirm that we have this policy in place and this is consistent with other airlines across the globe. This policy reflects parents’ concerns and is implemented with the aim to maximise the child's wellbeing. 
We understand you may find this disappointing however we remain absolutely comfortable with the enforcement of this policy.
I voiced my discontent with this policy and noted that it is not consistent with other airlines. He replied:
We understand you may find this disappointing however as per our previous message, we are absolutely comfortable with the enforcement of this policy. 
After this, I said: "If you claim you understand, then you'd better come up with an explanation for your make passengers instead of empty rhetorics." Sadly, Jay would only repeat the same thing:
As per our previous message, we remain absolutely comfortable in the continuation and enforcement of this policy. We're sorry that we couldn't assist you further. 
I will copy here  my complete answer to this (that Qantas didn't answer to any more):

I am sorry too, because I know that Qantas is otherwise one of the best airlines in the world. I think you should hire public relations professionals that can provide the rationale to your policies to the passengers and other public, because otherwise you are offending your paying customers, and that is bad for any corporation. Of course the policy itself is offending, but at least then you might be able to convey why it exists at all, and the same professionals could also check whether it is inline with other countries' airlines' policies (which it is not).

I am providing you this advice so that you can improve your service and public relations in the future.

Secrets after secrets

Qantas' gender discrimination policy used to be completely secret, just like British Airways' was before it. It was only revealed in 2005 after a seat reassignment made a Kiwi man take it to the public. Now, if this policy has indeed risen from "parents' concerns", why would it be secret? Don't they want to tell parents that their children are safe? Have they had secret meetings with parents to plan this policy?

The policy itself is discriminatory. Labeling men as "unsafe" and women as "safe" is insulting to everybody. This is the 2010's and we are talking about one of the best airlines in the world, coming from Australia, itself known for its democracy and freedom (though its past is plagued with human rights violations and discriminatory policies). Qantas is effectively suggesting that a major part (or most) of their passengers are potential pedophiles and child molesters and they cannot be trusted.

At the same time, they are not dividing passengers into "safe" and "unsafe" categories by profession. Why are Catholic priests still allowed onboard? What about people convicted of violent crimes? With Qantas' questionable logic, they should be extending this policy to much wider demographic groups. What about ethnic groups and different nationalities? I am sure that in some countries sexual crimes are more common than in others, so shouldn't they start racial profiling to protect children?

The secrecy around the discriminatory policy is also offending and illogical and also a public relations problem. Don't they have professional public relations team that could actually communicate the rationale of the policy to the public and especially to their passengers that they are insulting every day that the policy is in effect? Why couldn't Jay direct me to a statement about the policy and/or more information about the rationale?

He also claimed that the policy is compatible with other airlines around the world. Per the Wikipedia article, it is known that Air New Zealand, Virgin Austarlia and Britsh Airways have or have had a similar policy. In 2010, after a successful legal case, British Airways dropped its policy. Did Jay lie when he said Qantas' policy is in line with other policies? Is it just empty rhetorics or is there something that he is not telling us?

Jay also said Qantas is "absolutely comfortable" with the policy. I think it is clear that they are not. Even if they indeed feel the policy is necessary, it is still not a comfortable one. They will have to reseat male passengers - frequent fliers, seniors, fathers, businessmen, students - indirectly accusing them of being potential child molesters. That is bad for business and gives them bad publicity and accusations of unconstitutional discrimination. And one day, maybe soon, they will have to overturn the policy, just like BA did, exposing their hypocricy, maybe leading to a shameful public apology (yet leading to better policies, hopefully).

There have been vocal critics of Qantas' (and others') discriminatory policies, including New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy and Boris Johnson (British politician and later Mayor of London).

Tough decisions

All policies should be communicated. This one should be communicated to the public and sensible rationale provided. Then, this policy should be overturned because it is discriminatory, hypocritical, counterproductive and generally bad business. And I very much doubt it helps any children. If it does, I'd like to see some numbers instead of rhetorics. I would also like to see policies being based on truths instead of lies. The claim about consistent policies with other airlines is a lie, as noted above.

As Qantas and British Airways have a very long relationship in providing services between United Kingdom and Australia, maybe BA should teach QF how to handle unaccompanied minors on its flights and how to treat its respected and valuable paying customers better.

I am myself a OneWorld (which Qantas is a member of) frequent flier. Thanks to my recent intercontinental travel between USA and Finland, I have enough "miles" to get some award flights. Should I choose to fly with Qantas, one of the best airlines in the world?

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