U.S. News

David Cooley, owner of popular LA gay bar, The Abbey, says Alaska Airlines made his partner move to seat a straight couple together

Key Points
  • David Cooley, the owner of a popular LA gay bar, claims that Alaska Air forced him and his partner to move out of premium seats so a straight couple could be given them.
  • Alaska Air is investigating the incident.
  • The airline has a history of support for LGBT travelers and told CNBC it has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination.
  • Alaska Air joins Uber and CrossFit as one of the latest companies to be caught in a crossfire over behavior of employees in matters of LGBT rights and discrimination.

David Cooley, founder and CEO of famed West Hollywood gay bar, The Abbey, spoke out Monday against Alaska Airlines, alleging that he and his partner were forced to give up a premium seat on a flight from New York to Los Angeles to accommodate a heterosexual couple.

"After my traveling companion and I had been seated in our assigned seats for a while, we were approached by the flight attendant," said Cooley in a post on Facebook.

David Cooley (right), owner of LA gay bar The Abbey, with Diana Ross and her musician son, Evan, to promote Ross' new remix of 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' on January 6, 2018, in West Hollywood, California.
Tommaso Boddi | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Cooley's partner was asked to move from his premium seat to coach.

Cooley informed the attendant they, too, were a couple but was reportedly told they could either move or get off the plane.

The couple decided to leave the flight and book their return trip with another airline.

"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 said.

Alaska Airlines is investigating why a same-sex couple was asked to separate and move seats on Flight Number 1407 from New York to Los Angeles, though it seems the seats were double booked.

Alaska Air Group's' spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said in a statement to CNBC:

"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."

Alaska Air has history of LGBT support

Alaska Airlines has established policy over the years in support of its LGBT customers. The airline has its own dedicated LGBT page for gay travel and runs promotional offers with a range of discounts to destinations to coincide with Pride celebrations.

The airline also received a perfect score on the 2018 Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, which measures corporate policies and practices pertinent to LGBTQ employees.

Major corporations recently have found themselves dealing with unexpected difficulties when it comes to actions taken by employees and representatives of their brands. Uber was caught in a negative PR cycle after a New York City-based Uber driver kicked a lesbian couple out of his car for kissing in the backseat. Exercise franchise CrossFit was caught in a backlash after a local franchise owner in Indianapolis took issue with Pride activities at his gym, and a CrossFit corporate employee spoke out in favor of the franchise owner on social media.

Airlines have faced a string of complaints in recent years about LGBT discrimination and are often caught up in more general backlash after incidents on flights, such as the United Airlines flight during which a passenger was dragged off a plane last year.

Southwest Airlines, which also offers services catering directly to the LGBT community, faced a claim of LGBT discrimination last year when a same-sex couple reported they were denied "family boarding" privileges on a Southwest flight.

Cooley declared he would "never be flying Alaska Airlines or their recently purchased Virgin Airlines Group ever again" and called on others to boycott the airline in his Facebook post. Alaska Air and Virgin's merger became official earlier this year.