A prominent gay bar owner says Alaska Airlines separated him and his partner so that a straight couple could sit together
David Cooley is the CEO and founder of The Abbey, a famous gay bar in West Hollywood. It frequently shows up on lists of the best gay bars in the United States. Recently, he and his partner were seated on an Alaska Airlines flight from New York to Los Angeles, when a flight attendant asked his partner to move.
Cooley wrote on Facebook: “After my traveling companion and I had been seated in our assigned seats for a while, we were approached by the flight attendant and my companion was asked to move from his premium seat to coach, so a couple could sit together. I explained that we were a couple and wanted to sit together. He was given a choice to either give up the premium seat and move to coach or get off the plane. We could not bear the feeling of humiliation for an entire cross-country flight and left the plane. I cannot believe that an airline in this day and age would give a straight couple preferential treatment over a gay couple and go so far as to ask us to leave.”
Cooley added that he would never fly Alaska Airlines again, and thanked Delta for accommodating them.
.@AlaskaAir I have never been so discriminated against while traveling before. I was removed from an Alaska Airlines flight # 1407 from John F. Kennedy Airport to LAX to give preferential treatment to a straight couple. #LGBTQ #AlaskaAir #JFK #discrimination pic.twitter.com/Os9JWM4aQt
— David Cooley (@DavidCooleyLA) July 29, 2018
Alaska Airlines released a statement regarding the incident, and they seem to deny that sexual preference played any part in the flight staff’s decision.
An unfortunate seating mix-up occurred this weekend. Full LGBTQ equality is a value we share. pic.twitter.com/uyaM1dsXmv
— Alaska Airlines (@AlaskaAir) July 31, 2018
The statement also pointed out how Alaska Airlines received a perfect score on Human Rights Campaign’s LGBTQ Corporate Equality Index, and emphasized their company commitment to inclusion. They’ve also been active on Twitter, responding to Cooley and other prominent members of LGBTQ community, including Billy Eichner and Roxane Gay. They maintain that the seating error was an honest mistake, and not motivated by prejudice.
It’s unclear whether this explanation is enough for Cooley, who has since deleted his post on Facebook, though his tweet on the subject remains live, and it’s tough to make a full determination here, given the differing accounts of the story. But it’s easy to see how sexual preference could be a factor.
I can totally see a flight attendant or gate agent assuming two men sitting next to each other aren’t a couple, and feeling justified in separating them. But then, once it’s explained that they are a couple, and they were in those seats first, what’s the argument for trying to move them then? If it’s a seating mixup and an honest mistake, fine.
But if an employee made heteronormative assumptions as part of their job, then Alaska Air needs to take steps to make sure that’s not a systemic problem.
Now, this was a situation where passengers were initially asked to move seats, not to leave the plane completely. But the practice of overselling flights and then bumping passengers is common throughout the industry. In fact, Alaska Airlines has recently paid out the highest average compensation to bumped passengers. It’s unclear what they offered to Cooley and his partner.
Though, we’d assume it has to at least start with two first-class seats. Together. What do you guys think? Did an Alaska Air employee screw up by assuming the two men weren’t a couple? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter at @WhatsTrending.