A United passenger whose first-class seat on a recent flight from Houston to D.C. was given to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is firing back at the Democratic congresswoman's accusations of racism – while challenging the airline's account of the incident.
Jean-Marie Simon, an attorney and private school teacher, became the latest face of airline passenger woes when she detailed on Facebook and later to the news media how she lost her seat to the Texas lawmaker.
But despite a statement from United seeking to explain the switch-out, she's not giving up the fight. And the congresswoman's response – essentially claiming Simon made a scene because Jackson Lee, as an African-American woman, is an "easy target" – did not calm the waters.
Simon, in an interview with Fox News, rejected the racism allegation.
“That could have been Donald Duck in my seat,” Simon, a Democrat, told Fox News on Thursday. “I could not see who had boarded the flight. I didn’t even know who she was.”
Simon originally accused United of bumping her from her first-class seat on a Dec. 18 flight in order to accommodate the Texas congresswoman.
At first, Simon didn't know who was in her seat as she argued at the gate. United eventually gave her a $500 voucher and reseated her in the economy plus section. In her original Facebook post, Simon said another Texas congressman then informed her a fellow member of the delegation was in her seat, and "regularly does this" to passengers.
'I could not see who had boarded the flight. I didn’t even know who she was.'
Simon proceeded to take a photo of Jackson Lee, have a tense encounter with a flight attendant who allegedly threatened to remove her -- and has been battling with the airline ever since she got home.
On one front, United claims Simon lost her seat because she canceled her flight via the app (which she denies). And on another, Jackson Lee piled on this week by reissuing her statement chalking up Simon's discontent to racial animus.
“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 with the African American flight attendant who was very, very nice,” she wrote. “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.”
Simon is focusing her energy mostly on dealing with United, not Jackson Lee, but told Fox News, “The only way she is relevant is that she has a documented history of demanding first-class service.”
Asked for comment, Jackson Lee spokesman Rucks Russell said in a statement: “The Congresswoman regrets any inconvenience that her travel may have caused to any passenger, however the issue in question involves the passenger and United Airlines.”
The 63-year-old passenger says her beef mostly is with United and how they treated her. She also suggested the airline is trying to age-shame her.
“I’m not some AARP grandmother who doesn’t know how to use a phone,” she said. “I know how to cancel a flight and I did not cancel this flight.”
It's still not entirely clear what happened that day.
Simon used 140,000 frequent flyer miles on Dec. 3 to purchase her first-class ticket from Washington, D.C., to Guatemala and back. On her way home, she had a layover at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.
Simon said the attendant scanned her ticket but her reservation had been removed from the system. At that point, the member of Congress already was in first class, and Simon eventually got the economy plus seat.
United later attributed the incident to an app cancellation by Simon.
The official statement from the airline said they “thoroughly” examined their electronic records and “found that upon receiving a notification that Flight 788 was delayed due to weather, the customer canceled her flight from Houston to Washington, D.C. within the United mobile app.”
The statement continued, “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 were able to provide this customer a seat on the same flight in economy plus.”
Simon rejects the explanation.
“Why would I ever cancel the second segment?” Simon said Thursday. “United furnished no proof that I canceled it. And why didn’t I reserve another fight?”
Though United credited her 140,000 miles, what Simon really wants is an apology from the company’s top brass.
She tweeted that a “low level employee at a call center” said sorry over the phone but that he hadn’t even been briefed on the details of her complaint.
She also took to Facebook on Wednesday asking where's the proof she canceled her flight.
Asked Thursday about the discrepancies between United’s and Simon’s accounts, a United official told Fox News that their records clearly show the flight leg was canceled via the app – and not by a gate agent or other third party.
The official said their internal coding reflects the flight was canceled roughly a half-hour before the original take-off time, after it was clear the flight would be delayed over an hour. The congresswoman was then tapped for the seat because she was at the top of the upgrade list thanks to her global services status, the official said.
Though Simon adamantly denies she canceled her flight, the official said it’s possible this could have been done accidentally.