A woman who was trying to board a Washington D.C.-bound connecting flight in Houston is claiming that United Airlines gave up her seat for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) – and then threatened to kick her off the plane entirely after she took a picture of the lawmaker in her seat.
“It was just so completely humiliating,” 63-year-old Jean Marie Simon, 63, told the Houston Chronicle.
Simon had booked a first-class seat on the connecting flight weeks in advance for her return trip to D.C. from Guatemala, dropping 140,000 miles to ensure that she would be back for Christmas. It wasn’t until after an hour-long weather delay that Simon learned that her flight status was in jeopardy from a gate attendant who could not find her ticket in the system.
The airline eventually determined that Simon’s seat was taken, offering her a $500 voucher and a new seat in the Economy Plus section of the airline for her trouble. Upon boarding, she realized that Congresswoman Jackson Lee had apparently been given preferential treatment by United – a claim that the airline vehemently denies.
“After thoroughly examining our electronic records, we found that upon receiving a notification that Flight 799 was delayed due to weather, the customer appears to have canceled her flight from Houston to Washington, D.C. within the United mobile app,” United said in a statement.
“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 insists that she never cancelled her ticket and provided screenshot proof to the newspaper, but United disputed her claim, providing its own internal screenshot that supposedly proved that Simon canceled the flight.
In a statement, Jackson Lee offered: “I asked for nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary and received nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary.”
But Simon claims that she saw Jackson Lee board the plane with a flight attendant before all other passengers. Still, Jackson Lee attacked Simon’s qualms along racial lines.
“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,” she said.
“This saddens me, especially at this time off year given all 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.”