Holiday travel can be stressful even when things go relatively smoothly, but United Airlines may have some additional public relations turbulence on its hands based on what traveler Jean-Marie Simon is claiming. Simon, who was returning to Washington D.C. from Guatemala, by way of Houston, Texas, says that the air carrier gave away her first-class seat to Sheila Jackson Lee, the Houston congresswoman.
Jackson Lee was also apparently allowed to board the flight before anyone else, including those in the pre-boarding category.
Simon, 63, a lawyer and private school teacher, bought her round-trip tickets on December 3, but when she arrived at Houston’s George Bush International Airport from Guadalajara on December 18 on the second leg of her return home, the gate attendants told her that the reservation for seat 1A in the first-class cabin was somehow cancelled with the United mobile app and ultimately seated her in economy class instead.
Describing what happened as “completely humiliating,” Simon denies cancelling her ticket.
Rep. Jackson Lee, a Democrat who has called for President Trump’s impeachment and is otherwise a vocal foe of the Trump agenda, said yesterday in a statement that no favoritism was involved, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“I asked for nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary and received nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary.”
Jackson Lee also seemed to imply that racism was in play, but Simon noted that “I had no idea who was in my seat when I complained at the gate that my seat had been given to someone else. There is no way you can see who is in a seat from inside the terminal.”
Once she boarded the aircraft, Simon took a picture of who she says is Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee sitting in her seat, after which a flight attendant allegedly told Simon that security would remove her from the plane if she created any problems.
In a lengthy Facebook post, Jean-Marie Simon claims that another lawmaker confirmed that Sheila Jackson Lee bumped her from her seat.
“I was the last passenger on the plane. A Texas congressman, a nice guy, sat down next to me. He said was glad I had made it on the flight. I showed him my boarding pass with my seat, 1A, printed on it. He said, ‘You know what happened, right? Do you know who’s in your seat?’ I said no. He told me that it was Jackson Lee, a fellow U.S. congresswoman who regularly does this, that this was the third time he personally had watched her bump a passenger. Then he asked me if I knew whom Jackson Lee represents in Congress: Bush International Airport in Houston. He apologized, saying, ‘Jackson Lee gives us all a bad name; it’s shameful.'”
An official with United Airlines called Jean-Marie Simon and apologized profusely after she initially publicized the incident on social media. Simon, who already received a $500 voucher, still wants a formal, written apology from the airline.
You may recall that back in April, United Airlines created a public relations disaster when it forcibly removed a doctor from an overbooked Chicago-to-Louisville flight when he refused to give up his seat voluntarily. “In June, a woman said she was forced to give up her 2-year-old’s $969 seat on a flight from Houston to Boston and hold him for roughly three hours because the airline sold the seat,” the Chronicle added. Earlier this month, a woman claimed that a man groped her on a United Airlines flight from New Jersey to Charlotte, North Carolina, prompting an FBI investigation, WSOCTV reported.
In 2008, Sheila Jackson Lee, who has represented a Houston-area district since 1995, co-sponsored a bill calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush. In 2014, Washingtonian magazine named Sheila Jackson Lee the meanest Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives based on a survey of Capitol Hill staffers.
Update: United Airlines reached out to the Inquisitr and provided the following statement.
“We were concerned by this issue and took immediate steps to fully understand what happened. 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, D.C. within the United mobile app. 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. We have reached out to Ms. Simon to explain what occurred, to apologize for her experience and will be offering compensation as a gesture of goodwill.”