An attorney and private school teacher from Washington, DC, is accusing United Airlines of removing her from her first-class seat only to give the seat to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX).
Jean-Marie Simon, 63, had been about to board the final leg of her flight home to D.C. from George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston on December 18 when a gate agent notified her that she could not locate her ticket in the system.
When the gate agent asked Simon if she canceled her ticket, Simon replied, “No. I just want to go home.”
But when Simon boarded the flight, she noticed Lee, the Democrat congresswoman from Houston, taking her seat.
Airline staff told Simon the seat was taken and gave her a $500 voucher, along with another ticket for the same flight in Economy Plus.
The D.C. teacher claimed that the airline bumped her from her seat to accommodate the congresswoman.
“It was just so completely humiliating,” said Simon, who spent 140,000 miles to purchase the round-trip first-class tickets between D.C. and Guatemala.
United Airlines, however, refuted Simon’s claim.
“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.
Simon said she saved screenshots from her United app to prove that she only had one “inactive” reservation that was canceled due to Hurricane Harvey.
United, however, claimed that the canceled December 18 trip would not show up in the system because Simon wound up taking the flight.
Lee, in a statement, maintained that the incident was not her fault and claimed that Simon was discriminating against African Americans by bringing up the issue with United.
“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,” Lee said in the statement, according to the Houston Chronicle.
A Texas congressman who sat in the seat next to Lee told Simon that the congresswoman had reportedly bumped other passengers before.
“Jackson Lee gives us all a bad name; it’s shameful,” he added.
Simon wrote in a Facebook post that she sent an emailed letter to United CEO Oscar Muñoz and posted her letter on social media.
She also wrote that while many news outlets picked up on her story, the Washington Post scrapped the story because her account was “too ambiguous” despite her providing all necessary documentation to the outlet.
The teacher said she received a call from United’s “resolution manager” once she got home, but did not receive a formal, written apology from the airline.
United Airlines had dealt with several public relations snafus throughout 2017, most notably in April when the airline dispatched security to use physical force to remove a doctor who refused to give up his seat on an overbooked flight.