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Gay Couple Says Alaska Airlines Discriminated Against Them With Seating Ultimatum

Gay Couple Says Alaska Airlines Discriminated Against Them With Seating Ultimatum
Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images

An investigation has been opened at Alaska Airlines into an incident involving two couples, one gay, one straight.

David Cooley, the owner of the hugely successful gay club, The Abbey, in Los Angeles, was flying with a companion from New York to Los Angeles when the flight attendant approached and said his friend would need to move seats to make room for another couple. The other couple was a straight. When Cooley and his friend protested, they were told to move or get off the plane. They chose to forgo the indignity of remaining on the plane and left.

Later, Cooley posted about the experience on Facebook saying:

I have never been so discriminated against while traveling before. I was removed from an Alaska Airlines flight # 1407 from John F. Kennedy International Airport to LAX to give preferential treatment to a straight couple. 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. We will never be flying Alaska Airlines or their recently purchased Virgin Airlines Group ever again. Thank you to Delta Air Lines for getting us home safe. If you are an #LGBT person, please spend your travel dollars with an LGBT friendly airline like Delta.

Alaska Airlines admitted there was a seating mistake but denied that the motivation behind moving one passenger over another was discriminatory. They issued the following statement:

When boarding flight 1407 from JFK to LAX, a couple was mistakenly assigned the same seats as another couple in Premium Class. We reseated one of the guests from Premium class in the main cabin. We are deeply sorry for the situation, and are investigating the details while communicating directly with the guests involved to try and make this right. Alaska Airlines has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind, and our employees value inclusion for our guests and each other.

It's our policy to keep all families seated together whenever possible. That didn't happen here. We are deeply sorry for the situation and did not intend to make Mr. Cooley and his partner feel uncomfortable in any way.
All of us at Alaska value inclusion for our guests and each other. Full LGBTQ equality is part of the fabric of Alaska Airlines. We are an airline for everyone and reflect these values through our work with dozens of nonprofit LGBTQ organizations, and our efforts toward achieving a perfect score in HRC's Equality Index. We'll keep building on this commitment with our LGBTQ employee group, GLOBE.

Many on social media had a strong reaction to the story.

Others supported the airline.

Alaska Airlines has since reached out to Mr. Cooley and he accepted their apology. They are now in negotiations on how to make things right.

H/T: ABC, FOX News