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Alaska Airlines Apologizes to Gay Couple Asked to Move for Straight Couple

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© Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

By MIHIR ZAVERI, The New York Times

Alaska Airlines apologized this week after a flight attendant asked a gay man to give up his seat next to his partner so a straight couple could sit together, an exchange that put the airline on the defensive as it rebutted claims of discrimination.

David Cooley, the owner of a gay bar in West Hollywood called the Abbey, wrote on Facebook on Sunday that he and his partner had boarded a flight to Los Angeles from New York when a flight attendant asked if Mr. Cooley’s partner would move from his seat “so a couple could sit together.”

Mr. Cooley said he told the attendant that the two men were a couple and that he wanted to sit with his partner. But the attendant gave Mr. Cooley’s partner a choice: Move for the other couple or get off the plane.

[post_ads]“We could not bear the feeling of humiliation for an entire cross-country flight and left the plane,” Mr. Cooley said. “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.”

Through a spokesman, Mr. Cooley declined to comment further Wednesday. But his posts about the exchange on Facebook and Twitter brought a wave of criticism, with many noting that the exchange was a stark example of the discrimination L.G.B.T. people experience in travel and business.

The conversation around such discrimination gained national attention in June when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who had refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple. The decision left open a larger question of whether a business can discriminate against gay men and lesbians based on rights protected by the First Amendment.

Alaska Airlines reached out to Mr. Cooley on Twitter on Sunday and issued a public apology on Tuesday, saying the company would offer to refund his ticket and was “deeply sorry for the situation and did not intend to make Mr. Cooley and his partner feel uncomfortable in any way.”

But the airline said the encounter was not a case of discrimination, characterizing what happened as a “seating error” and calling itself a “zero-tolerance company that does not support discrimination of any kind.”
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Before its public apology, the airline said on Twitter that it was investigating Mr. Cooley’s story and that it had “inadvertently” booked two people in one seat on a full flight.

The airline did not immediately respond to further questions Wednesday.

Alaska Airlines also said in its statement that it had received a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which rates companies on their treatment of L.G.B.T. employees. Companies gain points for having nondiscrimination policies and benefits for L.G.B.T. workers, among other metrics.

Mr. Cooley said on social media on Tuesday that he had accepted the airline’s apology.

“We are discussing making things right,” he said.

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