Traveling in an airplane is an anxiety-ridden mess, but if you’re traveling with your special someone, it can be magical whether you’re stuck in an airport, worrying about carry-on size, mired in a layover, or even surrounded by crying babies.
As long as you’re sitting with that person, as stressful as air travel is, your trip can be an absolutely delightful flight. But what if a member of the flight staff approaches you right before you’re set to take off and tries to separate you from your significant other?
And what if it’s because they want to move another couple into your seats, even though you paid for them and were sitting there first? That’s exactly what happened to David Cooley when he was traveling with his partner on an Alaskan Airlines flight.
David, who owns a West Hollywood gay bar called the Abbey, wrote about his experience with the airline on Facebook, and how he was shocked and disheartened to see that a straight couple was given preferential treatment over him and his partner.
What’s worse is that Alaska Airlines’ “request” that Cooley’s partner give up his seat wasn’t a polite question: He either had to take the seat in coach and sit away from Cooley or get off the plane. The couple chose the latter option, but not without making the story of their experience go viral first.
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. The Advocate magazine Equality CaliforniaGLAAD Delta Air Lines Out Magazine David Cooley
Businesses discriminating against gay couples is nothing new, something that the The New York Times pointed out, drawing similarities between Cooley’s experience on Alaskan Airlines and that time the Supreme Court ruled a Colorado bakery had the right to refuse service to a gay couple that requested a wedding cake.
Although the legal system supported Masterpiece Cakeshop’s decision, the court of public opinion massacred Jack Philips’ store’s Yelp score, to the point where the site had to come in and delete reviews from customers who were angrier about Philips’ views on gay marriage than about the quality of his baked goods.
Like the Times says, however, Cooley’s case is a bit different: The nature of transportation and air travel isn’t identical to accepting a contract to make a cake for a couple. David and his partner had paid for their tickets and were already on-board when Alaska Airlines asked them to step off.
It’d be the cake equivalent of baking one for a customer and taking their money for it, then, on their wedding day, barging into the hall trying to take the cake away. The reason: There’s a straight couple that wants it and is entitled to it more than you, but you’ve got a banana nut bread in your car you’re willing to part with for their inconvenience. Oh, and the gay couple has to eat the bread in separate rooms. Also, who eats banana nut bread at a wedding anyway?
LGBT couples have reported that they’ve hid the nature of their personal relationships for fear of being discriminated against. Whether it’s flying, going out to a restaurant, 0r shopping in a department store, a recent survey asking gay couples about the type of “preferential treatment” they’re excluded from simply because of their sexual orientation details the stress of just going about normal, everyday tasks with their partner.
In many cases, the discrimination is “subtle.” Like one gay Fortune 500 worker who says that he’s missed out on chances to be promoted because he was excluded from extra-curricular work events.
“I couldn’t be fired for being gay. When partners at the firm invite straight men to squash or drinks, they don’t invite the women or gay men. I’m being passed over for opportunities that could lead to being promoted.”
In David’s original Facebook post, he touches upon a sentiment that many gay customers expressed in the above-mentioned survey: an appreciation for companies that go out of their way to stress inclusion of everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or race.
Something that Alaska Airlines was quick to respond to online, stressing that their business model values inclusiveness and treating their customers with equal respect, courtesy, and service.
While it’s easy to vilify corporations and write off Alaska Airlines’ tweet as a knee-jerk we’ll-say-anything-to-quell-a-PR-nightmare response, a look into the airline’s history proves that they’ve been an active member in the fight for inclusion and ending discrimination against members of the LGBT community.
There are dedicated blog posts on the business’ site that stress the importance of diversity in its workforce, and the airline also assisted families affected by the Orlando shooting massacre.
Cooley acknowledged that he not only received the apology from Alaska Airlines corporate, but that he also believed and accepted their gesture.
Although something like this shouldn’t have happened in the first place, it’s admirable that Alaska Airlines went above and beyond to make sure that Cooley’s memory of such a bad day was made right, and hopefully other same-sex couples in the future will only have to worry about normal flying problems – like an abysmal lack of leg room.
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