United Breaks Spirits

We’ve long known that there is a large number of things that you cannot expect to be able to do when traveling by plane. Be comfortable, be treated like a human being, know for sure you’re going to get on the flight you paid good money for even though the number of existing seats hasn’t changed since the last takeoff, eat food that tastes like what it’s supposed to be and not have your dangle parts xrayed in the name of safety are just a few of them.

To this list, we can now add read books about old aircraft. That, as it turns out, will get your ass pulled off the flight quicker than you can say amateur aviation historian.

I had taken out and was reading a book of Polish Aircraft circa 1946 and I was also looking at views of an Italian aircraft from 1921.”

According to Gilbert, who is African-American, as the plane prepared for take off, “2 Mass State Policemen, 1 or 2 TSA Agents, and the bursar for the flight come down the [aisle] and motion me to get off of the plane.”

Once on the breezeway, Gilbert claims the police officers asked if he’d had “a problem” with his bag and whether he was looking at a “book of airplanes.” Gilbert said he showed them what he was reading (he says they deemed it “Snoopy Red Baron stuff” and said they were sorry for the inconvenience) and was eventually allowed back on the plane.

Gilbert writes that he “silently wept” the whole flight to Washington, DC, and that he was left ”broken hearted and speechless.”

In what I hope is more than the regular canned we’ve gone and right fucked shit up and we feel bad about the horrible publicity this is going to generate so we’ll say sorry statement most companies trot out at times like this, a spokesman for United Airlines wrote the following:

“The service Mr. Gilbert described does not reflect the experience we aim to deliver our customers. We are reaching out to Mr. Gilbert and to Shuttle America, the United Express carrier that operated the flight, to better understand what occurred and to ensure Mr. Gilbert knows we value his business.”

Interesting side note. What, exactly, does United Airlines have against musicians? I ask because the Gilbert in question happens to be Vance Gilbert, a professional folk musician from the Boston area. He gets pulled off of a United plane and questioned for no good reason, and a few years ago the same airline sent Dave Carroll on his songwriting crusade. Really guys, music isn’t that bad. Lighten up.

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