Monday, June 12, 2006

I MET GILBERT TUHABONYE








I met Gilbert Tuhabonye, author of This Voice in My Heart, at Denver Airport.

I mean, I literally, just met him at the Denver airport on Sunday. We were sitting at tables next to each other at Seattle's Best Coffee and soon were talking.

Okay, so Gilbert went in at 3pm to check in for a 4pm flight. The guy at check-in told him, "You're not going anywhere." and wouldn't try to help him at all. That isn't that late. One hour before take off is not out of line. As you can see in the picture below, it says 45 minutes is all you need to be. (The other picture is a mural in the airport with their focus on peace and diversity.) As you can see Gilbert is a dark-skinned African man. Yes, the Frontier employee was white. So, if you overlook his rudeness to Gilbert can you also overlook that he then turned around and sold the ticket to someone else? I mean, weren't they just as late as Gilbert? (And Gilbert wasn't really "late" there was plenty of time.) So, the ticket was taken away from Gilbert and given to another person.

Two other things. Mike called security. Three security guards, no less, showed up. Well, if it wasn't for Gilbert's status as a published author who happened to have a copy of the book with him and an article from the local newspaper which showed him as in Denver to run a 10K and do a booksigning tour--basically his celebrity status--who knows if he'd have a flight at all!

The one security guard Sherry Owens, assisted Gilbert, (86021, 1331 Cherokee, DIA, Denver, CO) helped by going with Gilbert to customer sevice. It seems that Coe had left him with a no-guarantee stand-by at 8pm that night. (4 hours later.) She helped bump it to a guaranteed 8pm flight. His family would have to pick him up at Austin at like midnight...

So, we hung out a bit. When he and his friend saw my card "Listening for Change" and "ending racism" they were like, "Excellent! Yeah, yeah." and began talking. It seems when you are very dark-skin African in the US you might run into a few roadblocks at such places as airports and US borders among other places.

He gave me his card. And told me of surviving genocide in Africa. I mentioned I had seen Immaculee Ilibagiza on Wayne Dyer show and was blown away by her love and commitment to the goodness of the human spirit even after her neighbors had killed her whole family (and over 200.000 other Tutsis) and she spent 90-days in a small bathroom hiding with eight other women while they were being hunted by those same neighbors... (You can buy both their books together here.)

And our conversation quickly went to how each of us had chosen to stay in joy and in the case of Gilbert and I--believe humans are actually born good and loving and such but society messes us up whereas his friend, I'll call Tom (also African heritage and not his real name by request) is firm that we are born in sin but by God's grace we can be godly and good.

Either way, we all think that being in joy--that is even though things are f'd up we decide to stay as much in an inner joy as possible--is the way to go. I mean, I think we're saying it's the most effective way to have a decent life in the midst of oppression while also influencing our fellows and appealing to the human in them.

Well, after a while Tom had to go and Gilbert and I went up to the Frontier place again. We hoped to find Coe but he was no longer on duty. Maybe having a white American woman with him would change things. As we're standing in line to check his bags a guy--white--walks up to us and says very very politely, "Do you mind if I go in front of you, my flight leaves in 30 minutes?" Me and Gil exchange looks. "Sure!" We were already in documentation mode for complaint letters. His picture is posted talking to Dixie of Frontier.

Sure enough, he was rushed through! No questions asked. Somehow there was no treatment as though he might be a cell, terrorist, or a "n----" (Gilbert's words for how he was being treated) and it's easy to see he didn't provoke anything. Gilbert relayed events as having to wait and wait while Michael Coe deleted his reservation and sold it to someone else then he ignored him and vindictively said,"Next, next customer!!" and dismissed him. When Gilbert asked again why he could not check his bags, Coe called security.

When we got up to the Frontier desk, Dixie was very friendly to Gilbert and told us Gilbert now had lots of friends in the airport. She also confirmed the employees name as Michael Coe.

That's where we parted ways.


You may write a letter of complaint by emailing Frontier Airlines about this incident to
customerrelations2@flyfrontier.com

or snail mail:

Frontier Center One
7001 Tower Road
Denver, CO 80249

My suggestion is there be a policy and a humanistic training which addresses racial biases among staff. And that Michael Coe be fired. I also think Gilbert should receive a complimentary flight on their airlines the next time he needs to go somewhere.

Apologies are good, I hear. I hear "sorry" helps.

2 Comments:

Blogger Sea's Blog said...

Regarding Gilbert Tuhabonye's flight and writing a letter of complaint to Frontier Airlines.

The flight # was 218
The date June 11, 2006
The time: 3pm
The employee who was unreasonable and mean: Michael Coe

Write to:
email: customerrelations2@flyfrontier.com

Frontier Airlines Inc
Frontier Center One
7001 Tower Rd
Denver CO 80249

11:39 PM PDT  
Blogger Sea's Blog said...

Gilbert sent me a correction that I had confused.

The correction is that the flight itself was supposed to be at 3pm and Gilbert arrived to check in at 2:01 pm.

I'll forward that info to Frontier customer service.

7:44 PM PDT  

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