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Musician ‘humiliated’ on flight

By Mark Shanahan & Meredith Goldstein
Globe Staff / August 25, 2011

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Folk musician Vance Gilbert on Tuesday posted a lengthy open letter on his website about a recent experience on a flight from Boston to Washington, D.C., he claims left him “frightened’’ and “humiliated.’’

A well-known member of the local folk scene, Gilbert maintains that after boarding a United Airlines flight on Aug. 14, he was pulled off the plane and questioned about his fanny pack (which he’d tucked into his backpack under the seat in front of him) and about a book he was reading on historic planes.

“I am a musician by trade and an amateur aviation historian, studying mostly European transport aircraft between WW1 and WW2, and some after. I was on my way to two different music festivals,’’ Gilbert explains in his blog post at vancegilbert.com. “When I travel I delve into reading about this era of aviation. 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 takeoff, “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 claims 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, D.C., and that he was left “broken hearted and speechless.’’

When contacted about Gilbert’s letter, United spokesman Charles Hobart e-mailed the Globe this statement: “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.’’

In an interview last night, Gilbert said he has been contacted by United and is arranging a time to discuss the incident.