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DC Woman Says United Gave Her First-Class Seat to a Congresswoman

Dec. 25, 2017
4 min read
united plane
DC Woman Says United Gave Her First-Class Seat to a Congresswoman
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A woman traveling on United from Houston to Washington, DC, said she was bumped from her first-class seat and forced to fly in coach because flight attendants were kowtowing to US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

Jean-Marie Simon said flight attendants said her first-class seat was not available when she showed up at boarding at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) on Dec. 18, according to the Houston Chronicle. They told her that her ticket had been "unreserved" and her seat had already been given away to another passenger, even though Simon was already in possession of a boarding pass for seat 1A on the flight. Instead of flying in first class, Simon was forced to sit in economy and make do with a $300 voucher. (She'd asked for a $500 voucher and a free meal, but was denied, according to her Facebook post.) The attorney and private-school teacher had purchased the flight as part of a trip to Guatemala using 140,000 airline miles.

"[T]he second agent told me that perhaps I had cancelled my own reservation. I said that was impossible: I had a boarding ticket in hand and I just wanted to get home," Simon wrote on Facebook. "Then he told me that ' has changed your reservation' and there was nothing United could do about it."

Image courtesy of Jean-Marie Simon's Facebook page.
Image courtesy of Jean-Marie Simon's Facebook page.

When she went up to see who'd snapped up her seat, Simon found Jackson Lee, who has served as the congresswoman in Texas's 18th congressional district since 1995. There, she took a photo and was confronted by a flight attendant before returning to her seat. Simon said she didn't know the legislator's identity until later in the flight. The airplane landed late at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

"United lied to me, repeatedly," Simon wrote. "They put Jackson Lee on the plane and then tried to blame it on a late incoming flight, another airline, my cell phone,, Global Services, and on everybody but the United employee who deliberately erased my seat, my ticket, and my name from the system in order to accommodate a member of Congress."

Jackson Lee said that she doesn't use her status as a congresswoman to get preferential treatment, and in turn said Simon seemed to be acting out of racial bias.

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"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 in a statement. "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."

United Airlines said Simon was bumped to economy because she canceled her flight using the airline's mobile app, and showed a Chronicle reporter a screenshot of an internal United system that appeared to back up the airline's claims, but the reporter couldn't immediately confirm independently that the screenshot was accurate. United did not respond to requests for comment by TPG by publication.

Simon said she wants an apology from the airline.

"United has some wonderful employees, like the gate agents at Reagan National and some flight attendants who, if there’s a war, I want on my side," she wrote. "But unfortunately, what one most remembers is the humiliation and expense wrought by United, who apparently believes that we all should be lucky to be flying the friendly skies with an airline that treats the paying public like dirt."

Earlier in 2017, United weathered a spate of bad publicity when it bumped a passenger for crew members in what came to be known as Bumpgate.

Featured image by Alberto Riva