The airline giant has blamed an "unfortunate misunderstanding" after a Melbourne woman claimed her female partner was asked to change seats so an elderly couple could sit together.
Victorian woman Kristina Antoniades was set to fly from Brisbane to Melbourne on Monday with her partner, Merrin, and young daughter Lily, when she was informed prior to the flight that their seats had been changed.
Taking to Facebook to describe what happened, Ms Antoniades said after refusing to swap seats to remain together, Merrin was reissued her original boarding pass and the trio boarded the flight.
But, she said, that wasn’t the end of it.
“Once the plane took off the flight manager asked why Merrin was seated next to the man and his wife seated behind them. I again advised the flight manager that we were a family and wanted to be seated together,” she posted.
“She demanded to see our boarding passes. We produced them and again she asked why we were not allowing the married couple to be seated together. I again told her that Merrin was my partner and Lily our daughter.
“I told her we had just as much right to be seated together as the married couple. She simply walked away. She did not offer an apology.”
Ms Antoniadis said the experience left her in tears and feeling humiliated.
“I have never experienced such blatant discrimination. It was a terrible experience and I am saddened that our daughter had to witness this,” she posted.
“I don't normally post serious status updates but I thought that this needed to be acknowledged for what it was, blatant homophobia and discrimination.”
Qantas has said the “mix up” had nothing to do with homophobia.
“It was an unfortunate misunderstanding, a mix up,” a spokesperson for the airliner told SBS.
“From our point of view, it doesn’t seem to about sexuality at all, our crew was just attempting to seat an elderly couple together.”
There have been reports that Ms Antoniades was given Qantas frequent flyer points as a sign of goodwill, but a spokesperson said that cannot be verified.
Qantas, whose chief executive Alan Joyce is openly gay, said the company is very active in supporting LBGTQI rights – as shown by its involvement in this year’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney.
“We’ve got a strong diversity program at Qantas,” the spokesperson said.
Anna Brown from the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, and also a human rights lawyer, has told SBS many same-sex families suffer from discrimination on a daily basis.
“Without commenting on this specific case, whether it's constantly having to explain that you actually are a family, or overt and deliberate exclusion or discrimination, these experiences all add up and take their toll," she said.
Ms Brown added that a greater focus needs to be implemented in companies nationwide to reduce that strain.
"Governments and businesses should be thinking about how they can proactively make their services inclusive and run training on unconscious bias with employees,” she said.
“(That’s) not only to minimise legal liability but to make their services welcoming for the diverse cultures and families that make up modern Australia."
SBS tried to reach Ms Antoniades for further comment on this story. She appears to have changed her profile details since the story first arose.
The full text as it appeared on Facebook:
"Today my family and I experienced awful discrimination on Qantas flight QF617 from Brisbane to Melbourne. We travelled Business Class and checked in online the day prior so that we were all seated together. I was seated with Lily on the left side of the isle and Merrin was seated on the isle seat on the right side. We had three consecutive seats.
Shortly before boarding Merrin was called over the intercom and asked to see Customer Service. Merrin was advised that Qantas had made the decision to move her seat to another row so that a married couple could be seated together. They did not acknowledge that we were a family and wanted to sit together. I argued the point that they should not take priority over our family being seated together. Eventually they reissued Merrin with her original boarding pass and we boarded the flight.
I thought that would be the end of it but once the plane took off the Flight Manager asked why Merrin was seated next to the man and his wife seated behind them. I again advised the Flight Manager that we were a family and wanted to be seated together. She asked me why I had taken it upon myself to move the Wife away from her Husband. I advised her that we were in our designated seats. She demanded to see our boarding passes. We produced them and again she asked why we were not allowing the married couple to be seated together. I again told her that Merrin was my Partner and Lily our daughter. I told her we had just as much right to be seated together as the married couple.
She simply walked away. She did not offer an apology. I was in tears as I was humiliated. we know some great people who work for Qantas; Lily's uncle, Merrin's best friend Christine just to name a few. I have never experienced such blatant discrimination. It was a terrible experience and I am saddened that our daughter had to witness this.
I don't normally post serious status updates but I thought that this needed to be acknowledged for what it was, blatant homophobia and discrimination."