Alaska Airlines has taken a lot of heat this week over an allegation that it deliberately separated a gay couple onboard a New York to Los Angeles flight so a straight couple could sit together. But I’m ready to give Alaska the benefit of the doubt.
David Cooley and his traveling companion were seated in Alaska’s extra-legroom economy class section prior to boarding. A flight attendant approached Cooley’s companion and told him he had to move back to regular economy class to accommodate another couple. Cooley protested and the pair were given the choice to accept the seating change or leave the aircraft. They left the aircraft and flew Delta home. Shortly thereafter, Cooley posted this account of the incident:
Unsurprisingly, the post went viral and Alaska quickly found itself on the defensive.
Alaska Airlines initially issued the following statement:
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.
Yesterday, Alaska issued an updated statement:
An unfortunate seating mix-up occurred this weekend. Full LGBTQ equality is a value we share. pic.twitter.com/uyaM1dsXmv
— Alaska Airlines (@AlaskaAir) July 31, 2018
Alaska Airlines, like other airlines, supported LGBTQ rights long before it became politically fashionable. The carrier has maintained a special website for gay travelers for more than a decade and donated time and money to many LGBTQ non-profit organization.
That gives Alaska Airlines both pathos and ethos to speak on this issue, but what about logos in this particular situation?
What Really Happened?
I agree with the analysis presented by One Mile at a Time on this issue. This was a system glitch. Two passengers were assigned the same seat and Alaska was forced to disappoint one of them. There was no ideal outcome.
The key lingering questions are as follows. First, what is Alaska’s policy for handling situations like this? When the same seat is assigned to two passengers, what factor(s) determine who gets the seat? Fare paid? Status? Time of booking? Second, was that policy followed here?
Let’s put this hypothetical on the table for a moment. Imagine Cooley and his companion received an upgrade at the gate but gate agents soon found that Cooley’s companion was placed in a seat that a couple had paid full price for and reserved for months. Puts a different spin on this incident, doesn’t it?
Alaska issued the follow-up statement above, but I hope that it will eventually inform us why the gate agent chose to seat the second couple together instead of leaving Cooley and his companion, who were already seated, together.
Cooley has now accepted Alaska’s apology and is in discussion over the issue.
Thank you to everyone for all the support. @AlaskaAir has reached out, apologized, and we are discussing making things right. I accept Alaska’s apology and appreciate it addressing the situation.
— David Cooley (@DavidCooleyLA) July 31, 2018
And because of that and because of Alaska’s commitment to gay rights over the years, I am ready to give Alaska Airlines the benefit of the doubt. I simply cannot conceive why Alaska would discriminate in this case on the basis of sexual orientation. Other factors must have been at play.
What do you think about this issue?