WASHINGTON - A D.C. private school teacher says she was booted off of a Dec. 18 United flight and her first-class seat was given away to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). The Congresswoman has since suggested the passenger's issue had to do with race.
Jean-Marie Simon posted a photo of Jackson Lee in a seat she claims she booked and was bumped from without her consent or knowledge. Her post was retweeted more than 17,000 times and liked more than 22,000 times, causing controversy and debate over the holiday weekend.
United said Simon canceled the flight, but the passenger contests that. Simon said she is still waiting for an apology from the airline even though the United has refunded the miles she used to book the ticket home.
Rep. Jackson Lee took to social media to weigh in with her reaction to the incident. In over a dozen tweets as well as a post on Facebook, she shared her statement about the incident and Simon's claims.
"I am disappointed in having to respond to this accusation, but I believe transparency is very important. Unfortunately, it looks like Grinch is trying to steal the spirit of the holiday.
Last Monday, I arrived at the airport to catch my flight to Washington to continue my fight to get Hurricane Harvey funds back to Texas and other hard hit areas, along with funding of the Children's Health Insurance Program and of course, trying to stop a tax bill that was going to cause millions of Americans to lose their health insurance.
After receiving my boarding pass, I boarded the plane in the normal process. I did nothing wrong. I asked for nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary and received nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary. I proceeded to take my seat and work on legislative issues on my way to Washington.
Although I was not involved, I observed a disruption by an individual walking back and forth in the cabin. I could overhear her speaking with a flight attendant (an African American woman). I saw the gate agent go to the seat of the individual who was walking back and forth before we took off.
I later came to understand that the individual had canceled her own flight. However I had nothing to do with that.
I noted that this individual came toward me and took a picture. I heard later that she might have said "I know who she is." 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. 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. I understand the airline is working to address the passenger's concerns. I am glad of that.
But as an African American, I know there are too many examples like this all over the nation. I hope one day, we will accept our collective diversity. Happy Holidays."
FOX 5 spoke with Simon about the allegations of racism suggested by Jackson Lee.
"I'm not going to address that because it could have been Mickey Mouse or Santa Claus in my seat and I would have felt the same way," Simon said. "This is not about race for me. This is about United. I don't want an apology from Jackson Lee. I want an apology from United."
FOX 5 reached out to United and the airline said Simon canceled her flight using the United mobile app. They noted they were able to provide her with a seat on the same flight in Economy Plus.
United said in a 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."