An Arlington musician is blasting United Airlines for what he says was racial profiling after being removed from a flight at Logan Airport and questioned by State Police about a carry-on bag and a book he was reading.
Vance Gilbert, a black man, said he was reading a book about Polish aircraft from the 1940s aboard a United Airlines flight on Aug. 14, when he started to notice shifting among flight attendants. The plane was in line for take-off at about 6:20 a.m. en route to Washington, D.C., when the pilot looped around and returned to the gate, Gilbert said.
The Arlington man, 52, said a couple of Massachusetts State Police troopers came aboard and asked him to accompany them off the plane. Once outside, the troopers asked him a series of questions about his carry-on luggage and the book he was reading, which Gilbert was then asked to retrieve from the plane.
Earlier in the flight, Gilbert said, a flight attendant had asked him to store away his fanny pack in an overhead compartment. He asked her to keep the bag nearby, as it contained his wallet and other personal items.
Those facts combined, he said, were enough to get him pulled off a flight that was delayed by more than one hour, inconveniencing the 70-80 other passengers aboard the plane.
“You can call it black paranoia, you can call it whatever you want,” said Gilbert, whose hobby is aviation. “But I know if it was any other guy reading a book about 1940s aircraft, it wouldn’t have been an issue.”
Once one of the troopers examined the book, Gilbert was quickly sent back to the plane. Still, Gilbert said, the damage was done.
“I’ve never been more humiliated,” Gilbert said. “You shake your head and you kind of laugh and cry at the same time. I’ve never experienced that.”
State Police spokesman David Procopio confirmed Gilbert's account of the event but offered no further details.
On Tuesday, Gilbert sent a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union office in Massachusetts, stating his racial profiling claim and asking for a response. The same letter was sent to United Airlines and posted on Gilbert’s blog.
An ACLU representative said the letter was received and lawyers are in the process of reviewing the claim. The representative said a response could take a couple of weeks due to the volume of complaints the statewide office receives.
United Airlines spokesman Charlie Hobart said the airline’s customer care team has also received the letter and is reviewing Gilbert’s complaint. “I don’t know the details and I’m not going to know more until customer care looks into it,” he added.
Hobart said he would contact Arlington Patch once he knows more.
Gilbert said he missed his connecting flight and had to rent a car to get to his final destination in Allentown, Penn., also missing half a day’s worth of work. He’s seeking reimbursement from the airline and said he is still considering legal action.
But right now, he just wants his story to be told.
“I felt violated,” he added.