David Cooley, who owns the iconic gay bar the Abbey in West Hollywood, is speaking up on social media after he felt Alaska Airlines discriminated against him on a recent flight. Cooley said in a public post to Facebook on Sunday that he and his partner were “removed” from Alaska Airlines flight 1407, originating at New York City’s JFK airport and bound for Los Angeles, in order “to give preferential treatment to a straight couple.”
In the post, Cooley alleges that a flight attendant asked his partner to vacate his premium cabin seat — for which he had a ticket — and sit in coach, all so that an unnamed straight couple could sit together during the flight instead. Cooley adds:
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.
The full Facebook post is littered with links out to the airlines and airports in question, as well as various LGBT rights groups. Cooley says that he will never fly Alaska Airlines again, and urges others in the LGBT community to consider doing the same. The post quickly caught on, and has since been shared over 1,500 times. The full post is below:
NBC News reports that Alaska Airlines is looking into the incident. The issue, they say, was that “a couple was mistakenly assigned the same seats as another couple in Premium Class.” In other words, they’re saying the issue was more of a miscommunication and service error rather than bigotry.
CBS News adds the following statement from Alaska:
This unfortunate incident was caused by a seating error, compounded by a full flight and a crew seeking an on-time departure and nothing more than that. It’s our policy to keep all families seated together whenever possible; that didn’t happen here and we are deeply sorry for the situation. We’ve reached out to Mr. Cooley to offer our sincere apologies for what happened and we are seeking to make it right.
Diversity and inclusion are 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, Pride Parades along the West Coast and a perfect score in the HRC’s Equality Index. We’ll keep building on this commitment, with our employee-led LGBTQ business resource group.
Eater reached out to the Abbey directly, but ownership declined to speak about the issue. Cooley, it should be noted, is among the most influential restaurant and bar owners in West Hollywood, having run the incredibly successful Abbey for years. The restaurant and nightclub even had its own short-lived reality show last year, chronicling the goings-on among staff and customers.