Media Mogul and Hotel Owner Denied Check-in Because He Wouldn’t Take Off Prescription Sunglasses

When United tried to buy US Airways 18 years ago they expected the biggest government objection to be over slots at Washington’s National airport. US Airways was the biggest carrier there and they wouldn’t want it to get even bigger combining with United.

So the two airlines came up with an ingenious solution. They were going to spin off the National airport operation as a separate airline, DC Air, and brought in Robert L. Johnson to launch it. Johnson was to buy the National Airport assets for $141 million. Delta and Continental Airlines expressed interest in investing.

Ultimately DC Air never happened because the announced United-US Airways merger never happened. The US economy began to falter and in my view United didn’t push very hard for regulatory approval, ultimately backing out of the deal and paying a $50 million breakup fee.

Robert L. Johnson is best known for founding BET, Black Entertainment Television in 1979 and selling it to Viacom for $3 billion in 2000. He serves on boards like Lowe’s, the NBA Board of Governors, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and is a past board member of Hilton Hotels, General Mills, and the United Negro College Fund.

He’s an accomplished man, he’s well traveled, and he owns hotels — his RLJ Lodging Trust owns about 150 of them. So he’s certainly used to checking into hotels. But no experience could have matched what he faced trying to check into the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Palm Beach, Florida (for the locals, technically it’s in Manalapan).

On August 24th he was not permitted to check into the hotel because he wouldn’t take off his prescription sunglasses. He has a home nearby but was allowing friends to use it so made a booking at the hotel.

He offered his drivers license, passport, and an American Express card which all matched the reservation. The check-in clerk insisted on being able to match him to his ID photo.

The hotel’s position is,

Generally when a guest comes in, much like when you would travel to the airport, you need to identify yourself with a form of ID. If you’re wearing dark glasses and we can’t identify you, we will kindly ask you to remove your glasses.

Get that? The check-in experience at the Eau Palm Beach Resort is like airport security. And that’s not something anyone voluntarily goes through.

Johnson asked the check-in clerk to call the police, which she did. “A Manalapan police report said a supervisor called to say a black male at the front desk ‘would not remove his glasses for ID purposes and started giving the managers a hard time.'”

Though it’s very uncommon for guests impersonating someone else to ask for the police, the clerk still wouldn’t check him in. He asked to cancel his booking and insisted on getting a receipt showing he wasn’t charged for the room. He “lifted the sunglasses to read it and promptly was told he now could check in” which he declined.

You telling me George Clooney walks into that hotel,” Johnson said Monday, “and (the clerk) is going to say, ‘Mr. Clooney, would you take off your sunglasses?’ ”

Johnson ultimately stayed at the West Palm Beach airport Embassy Suites, which he owns.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. So if this is a posted policy why would he not just remove glasses. I think hotel security should be same as airports since who knows what some guests have planned think Vegas.

  2. You telling me George Clooney walks into that hotel,” Johnson said Monday, “and (the clerk) is going to say, ‘Mr. Clooney, would you take off your sunglasses?’ ”

    No prob not. But I also don’t think Will Smith would have to take off his glasses, either. Movie stars are recognizable and movie stars get to wear sunglasses… It’s a perk of the job

  3. It seems like both parties to this transaction were foolish. In the past year, I’ve checked into both Hyatts and Hiltons where, in my opinion, the clerks were rude to me when asking for ID. Instead of the clerk saying something like “Mr Chopsticks, welcome to our hotel, I just need a credit card and photo ID to check you in,” they just barked “ID” at me and demanded compliance. I was slightly annoyed, but I produced the ID and checked in. Why go through life seeking friction?

  4. I had a job last year escorting and fast-tracking VIPs through a major international airport in Canada, which included some movie stars and musicians. Aside from getting to cut the line and use some back hallways to shorten their walk, they all were treated like everyone else at security and immigration.They had to pay extra for overweight or excess baggage, even in business class and had to wait like you and me for bags to be delivered to the carousel. Other then for one incident where I felt the airline dropped the ball and provided poor service to a customer who needed a wheelchair (and I feel sorry for regular joes that get this poor treatment from that airline) they all accepted the rules of the game that we all have to play by and didn’t go looking for confrontation or play the “do you know who I am card”.

  5. How about the guy just remove his sun glasses? I do every time I check into a hotel. What difference does it make how many ids he has?????? If he won’t show his face so they can verify its him how do they know those ids even belong to him? I guess you want to try to claim its a race issue. This guy talks about George Clooney? Well most people can recognize george clooney from numerous television and movie appearances. I have no idea what this guy looks like and am not sure why a hotel clerk would either. Demanding the police be called? GTFOH. How about removing taking two seconds to remove your frickin glasses instead of trying to get special treatment. This article feels like race baiting and not sure how it really is relevant to a travel blog.

  6. Racist hotel clerk should have been put down by manager. However no reason to call LEO as there was no criminal law issue here. I find the whole ID thing idiotic – it has nothing to do with security but is just a way for hotel to enhance revenue by prohibiting transfer of non-refundable reservations.

  7. I have heard all the pro’s and con’s of this incident. But I did not see anyone ask about the phone call the hotel supervisor made to the police: ““A Manalapan police report said a supervisor called to say a black male at the front desk ‘would not remove his glasses for ID purposes and started giving the managers a hard time.’”

    What am I missing? Oh, yes. If it was a white guest, would he have told the police it was a white male.

  8. My guess is that Mr. Johnson suspected that they would not have asked a white man to remove his sunglasses. He may have been right; he may have been wrong. And I also would guess that Mr. Johnson has also accommodated racist behavior in the past by figuratively “removing his glasses” but this time decided that he would take a stand. That may have been a mistake in this instance or he may have been justified. None of us know. It all depends upon the motive of the clerk and none of us know that. Either way, both he and the hotel end up looking bad and that likely hurts the hotel more than him.

    Cooler heads should have been able to de-escalate this during the time it took to call the police. Did they call a manager? Didn’t anyone perhaps think to google him? While he’s no George Clooney, he is pretty famous.

    Of course, it would be funny if he bought the hotel — which he could.

  9. Even I am forced to remove my sunglasses.
    Evidently everyone doesn’t KWIA or that I charge the hotel $35 to do such a thing.

  10. Imagine if it were a Muslim woman with her face covered. Amazing the deference to people because of their beliefs.

  11. @Chucks, there is a very simple work around… The front desk would have a female staff member check her face in a private setting. It happens all the time!

  12. If the dude has all that cash and already owns a bunch of hotels, just effing buy the place and change the policy and fire the idiot at the desk. Simple AF.

    If you can’t flaunt your DYKWIA status, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

  13. I don’t understand this post. You seem to be siding with a DYKWIA, while the clerk did the right thing.

    We need more clerks like him to slash DYKWIAs off their ego trips!

  14. Mr. DYKWIA is just being a diva. I get asked for my passport/ID at hotels where the check-in clerk has already greeted me by name because I’m a repeat customer. And this is after I have already been picked up at the airport by the hotel limo – driven by a driver who also recognizes me.

  15. “A Manalapan police report said a supervisor called to say a black male at the front desk ‘would not remove his glasses for ID purposes and started giving the managers a hard time.’”

    Definitely racist! If this hotel had any kind of customer service, they would have had Mr. Johnson, taken aside, and privately IDed him.

  16. There was a time when top hotels knew who their VIP guests were before they arrived.They greeted them by name as soon as they walked in the door. Employees no longer receive this kind of training. Make no mistake, whether you’ve heard of him or not, Robert Johnson is a well known, corporate VIP. If the desk clerk actually said “You’re going to have to remove your glasses.” then they sounded like a cop at a traffic stop, NOT a properly trained customer service person. Tone of voice, respect, tact and good manners go a long way. Today, low level employees are causing big problems for their companies due to ignorance, bias, poor communications skills and substandard training.

  17. “Owning” a place doesn’t guarantee people will recognize you. David Daniel “Mickey” Marcus, a World War II U.S. Army colonel who volunteered for Israel’s war of independence and became the first general in the Israeli Army, failed to identify himself properly upon returning to base during the war, and was shot to death by his own sentries.

  18. I can understand the need for identity verification. I can also understand the many ways in which people of color face subtle (and not so subtle) discrimination on a daily basis. As an elderly white man my reaction is, just take off the glasses, what’s the big deal. Mr. Johnson may have sensed discrimination when no such intent existed, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a clerk at a ritzy Palm Beach hotel might indeed take race into consideration. I can understand how over time a member of a minority could become hyper-sensitized to such situations and perhaps Mr. Johnson felt cranky and decided to say “enough.” We cannot get into the minds of either person in this situation.

  19. He told them to call police. My guess is he was loud and rude. If someone ask me to take off my sunglasses, I do it. I don’t give them a hard time for following policy.

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