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.