10/08/2012 12:41 BST

Virgin Australia Airlines Order Sydney Man To Move Away From Sitting With Children

An off-duty fireman was left feeling like a "potential pedophile" after a national airline stopped him sitting next to two small boys on a flight - because men are barred from sitting next to unaccompanied minors.

Virgin Australia has said it will review its policy after the backlash prompted after WAToday reported on Johnny McGirr's experience during his flight from Brisbane to Sydney, when he sat next to two small boys aged between eight and 10.

McGirr described how he moved from his window seat to the aisle to allow the boys to look out of the window, but was then pulled up by an air hostess, asking him to trade places with a female passenger.

McGirr said: "She said it was the policy and I said, 'Well, that's pretty sexist and discriminatory. You can't just say because I'm a man I can't sit there,' and she just apologised and said that was the policy."

He said passengers began to look at him strangely and he eventually moved seats but sat "getting angrier".

"By this stage everyone around me had started looking. Mr McGirr said the attendant then asked a fellow female passenger, "Can you please sit in this seat because he is not allowed to sit next to minors."

"After that I got really embarrassed because she didn't even explain. I just got up and shook my head a little, trying to get some dignity out of the situation. And that was it. I pretty much sat through the flight getting angrier."

A spokeswoman for Virgin Australia said its priority was the safety of children, but added in a later statement posted on Twitter: "We understand the concerns raised around our policy for children travelling alone, a long standing policy initially based on customer feedback.

"In light of recent feedback, we’re now reviewing this policy. Our intention is certainly not to discriminate in any way."

Outraged customers took to social networking sites to criticise the policy.

But others said they would prefer their children to be sat next to a woman if they were unaccompanied.

In 2010, a businessman successfully sued British Airways for treating him "like a potential child molester" because he sat next to a boy travelling alone.

Slough County Court said the airline's policy of forbidding men from sitting next to unaccompanied children was sex discrimination and paid £2,161 in costs and £750 in damages.

Mirko Fischer swapped seats with his pregnant wife Stefanie on a flight to Luxembourg, so she could sit near the window, and found himself next to the boy.

He told the BBC that a steward had told him that the plane could not depart until he moved seats, and he was "humiliated and outraged."

He said his biggest concern was how the child would have felt in the situation, and that his wife and he had felt uncomfortable chatting with the boy and had sat in silence.

And Mayor of London Boris Johnson fell victim to the same policy on a British Airways flight, until he informed the stewardess he was sat next to his own children.

Johnson described it as "single lunatic exchange in which you will see just about everything you need to know about our dementedly phobic and risk-averse society."

A spokeswoman for Virgin said the British airline had no such policy, and that Virgin Atlantic had separate management and welfare policies.