A South African gay couple are demanding 80, 000 rand in damages and an apology from British Airways after claiming they were deliberately stopped from sitting together and alone because of their sexuality.

Garrit Brown and Cecil Pickard, boarded a flight from Johannesburg to London in March and were told they could not be guaranteed a seat together and alone in economy class.

In a complaint lodged to Kempton Park Equality Court in South Africa, the couple allege that they approached the boarding desk holding hands and were treated “like animals that needed a guardian, in this case another passenger, to keep an eye on us so that we wouldn’t do anything deemed unacceptable in heterosexual society.”

The pair were told they would have to buy new tickets to upgrade in order to guarantee seats together.

“At this stage, it became abundantly clear that the staff of British Airways were doing everything in their power not to have us sit alone together. In the light of the recent progress homosexuals have made in terms of equal rights, we were insulted by this revelation.

“We had approached the ticket counter holding hands, and I had explained that this was our first trip together, we wanted to share the experience and we wanted to sit together alone.

“We are comfortable about our sexuality and refer to each other as boyfriends,” the complaint said.

BA denies the allegations. Daniel Swarts, British Airways Operations Manager, told South African paper, The Mercury, that there was no way of knowing the men were gay as staff would not have sen them olding hands because of the height of the counter.

He said the couple had purchased discounted tickets and should have finalised seating arrangements when the tickets were purchased with their agent, “If someone wants to upgrade such a ticket, it is necessary to determine how much the passenger actually paid for it, which was a fairly complex task.

“Our staff at the airport has been instructed not to upgrade net remit tickets because of potential errors occurring,”