Over the weekend, Alaska Airlines allegedly asked a gay couple to give up their premium seats so a heterosexual couple could sit together, on a flight from New York to Los Angeles.
The disturbing claim came to light after David Cooley, owner of popular West Hollywood bar The Abbey, took to Facebook to describe what happened. The pair were approached by a member of the cabin crew, who asked one of them to move into economy for a couple who wanted to sit together.
Cooley and his partner explained they, too, were a couple, and didn’t want to be separated either. The flight attendant then told Cooley’s partner that he needed to move to economy seating or get off the plane. They opted for the latter, as Cooley details in his post:
“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.”
Overlooking the heteronormative thought process of the Alaska Airlines crew, who appeared to assume the men weren’t a couple, their alleged subsequent behaviour was quite appalling. Instead of apologising, Cooley claims that they were discriminatory towards gay couples who were, quite literally, treated as second class.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this isn’t a one-off for the airline, who recently merged with Virgin America. In April, a woman claimed that her teenage brother with Down syndrome was removed from a St Louis to Seattle flight, as he was sick before take off. The family were stranded at the airport for almost 11 hours, and the airline responded that they removed the family due to “health concerns”.
Cooley claims that they were discriminatory towards gay couples who were, quite literally, treated as second class
Being asked to give up your seat on a flight is a perfectly normal request, like for a child when families are separated. That’s human decency. But being asked to give up your position for someone who is the same, just heterosexual? That’s homophobia.
Alaska Airlines, however, are not alone. United Airlines now seems almost synonymous with discrimination, from an African woman and her two children forced off their flight earlier this year after a white man complained about her “pungent smell” to a dog dying after being trapped in the hold.
When approached by Newsweek for a comment, Alaska Airlines responded by claiming they were “mistakenly assigned the same seats as another couple in premium class”. (Right…) “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.”
Unsurprisingly, the question now on everyone’s lips is: how many times do airlines have to be called out on this behaviour before so-called policy is turned into action?
What’s clear is that airlines must start taking zero-tolerance policies seriously and reprimanding staff who act in this way. But more troublingly, this is another disturbing indication of how homophobia and discrimination are still very much present.