Gay airline employee told he cannot use his free tickets

Rob Anders of La Mirada, California, is a long-time airline industry employee. At his company’s Christmas party, Anders won a pair of round-trip airline tickets from Northwest Airlines, to be used by him and a companion. He chose his partner of fifteen years, and they decided to use the free trip to visit Anders’ mother and attend a family reunion in Florida. The airline, however, refused to accept Anders’ partner as the other passenger. A Northwest representative said that the airline would recognize only a spouse, another airline employee, or a dependent child as a “companion.”

There is plenty wrong with this picture. It is unknown whether Northwest included this strange caveat in the fine print at the Christmas party drawing, but the assumption is that it did not. But let’s say that somehow, the restriction was announced; what an odd restriction. Let’s say Anders was heterosexual and wanted to take his girlfriend on the trip: according to Northwest, he could not. Let’s say he wanted to take his brother on the trip; according to Northwest, he could not.

These issues are interesting, but they are not as important as the fact that Northwest was willing to permit a spouse to accompany the winner of the drawing. Under Califnornia law, ‘full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever’ without regard to sexual orientation or marital status” must be granted to all citizens. A letter sent to the airline from the ACLU of Southern California states that:

Because same-sex couples who wish to marry cannot currently do so under California law, using marriage as a criterion discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. Northwest’s policy also discriminates on the basis of marital status because it does not permit unmarried heterosexual individuals to bring the companion of their choice.

Anders and his partner registered as domestic partners in 2004, but the airline representative specifically stated that Northwest would not accept a domestic partner in lieu of a spouse.