A woman on a flight from Houston to Washington D.C. accused United Airlines of giving her first-class seat to Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, and threatening to remove her off the plane for taking a photo of the congresswoman.
Jean-Marie Simon from Washington D.C. was preparing to board the last leg of her flight home from Bush International Airport on Monday, Dec. 18, when she was told she was not in the system, reported Chron.
The flight attendant asked whether she had canceled her own ticket.
“I said that was impossible. I had a boarding ticket in hand and I just wanted to get home.”
The 63-year-old, who had just flown from Guatemala to Houston on return tickets, was then simply told her seat 1A was taken and there was nothing the airline could do to reverse it.
“I said I wanted my seat, that I had paid a lot of miles for that seat, and that it was United’s responsibility to undo the seat assignment and return it to me, the person who had paid for it. He said no, because I had “unreserved” my seat and it had been given to another passenger, that s/he had been “upgraded,” Simon wrote in a Facebook post on Dec. 20.
“He said I could “stand here and argue” and miss the flight or book another flight with another airline, meaning that I would lose my first class ticket and pay for a second one,” she added.
Eventually, the airline compensated Simon with a $500 voucher and another ticket for that flight in Economy Plus.
The teacher and attorney later learned that seat 1A was reassigned to Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
Simon believes United removed from her seat to accommodate for the congresswoman, which the airline denied.
“After thoroughly examining our electronic records, we found that upon receiving a notification that Flight 788 was delayed due to weather, the customer appears to have canceled her flight from Houston to Washington, DC within the United mobile app,” United said in a statement, reported the newspaper.
“As part of the normal pre-boarding process, gate agents began clearing standby and upgrade customers, including the first customer on the waitlist for an upgrade.”
Simon denies canceling the ticket and has screenshots of only one “inactive” reservation for a flight to Houston in August to visit her daughter which was canceled because of Hurricane Harvey, reported Chron.
United said the screenshot doesn’t show the December flight as canceled as she ended up taking the flight.
Simon initially was not aware who the passenger was in her pre-purchased seat, but was told by a fellow passenger that he had seen the congresswoman do it twice before, Simon wrote on her Facebook Post.
Simon said a flight attendant came, sat next to her and told her that if she “created problems” she would be removed from the flight.
“A flight attendant sat down next to me and asked if I was going to be a “problem” on the flight. I asked if she heard me shouting or complaining. She said no, but I had taken a photo,” Simon wrote on her Facebook post. “The flight attendant said that security would remove me from the plane if I ‘created problems.'”
Lee issued a statement regarding the incident on the flight on Dec. 22.
“After receiving my boarding pass, I boarded the plane in the normal process. I did nothing wrong. I asked for nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary and received nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary. I proceeded to take my seat and work on legislative issues on my way to Washington,” Lee said.
The congresswoman said she noticed a concerned individual speak to a flight attendant and later learned it was to do with the seat she was sitting on. She suggested in her post that it may have something to do with the fact that she was an “African American woman.”
“Since this was not any fault of mine, the way the individual continued to act appeared to be, upon reflection, because I was an African American woman, seemingly an easy target along with the African American flight attendant who was very, very nice. This saddens me, especially at this time of year given all of the things we have to work on to help people. But in the spirit of this season and out of the sincerity of my heart, if it is perceived that I had anything to do with this, I am kind enough to simply say sorry. I understand the airline is working to address the passenger’s concerns. I am glad of that,” the congresswoman said in her statement.
Simon told Chron that she had no idea who was in her seat when she complained at the gate that her seat was given to someone else.
“There is no way you can see who is in my seat from inside the terminal,” Simon told the newspaper.
Since the flight, Simon has been contacted by United multiple times, who apologized for the incident. She said she wants a formal apology from the airline.
“Although I want an apology from United, this is really more about how this kind of behavior by an airline continues to go unchallenged,” she wrote in another post on Dec. 23.