On December 18 Jean-Marie Simon, an attorney and private school teacher, was on her way back from Guatemala when she touched down at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. Her flight was delayed an hour, and when she readied to board her last leg to Washington, D.C., United Airlines told her that someone had already taken her seat.
Simon did not know anything about who the person was who took her seat, which was in first class—a seat she paid for with 140,000 frequent flyer miles. She had no choice but to accept a downgraded seat in the economy plus section of the airplane. This didn’t sit well with Simon.
“I could not see who had boarded the flight. I didn’t even know who she was,” said Simon in an interview with Fox News on Thursday. “That could have been Donald Duck in my seat.”
The person who took her seat happened to be Representative Sheila Jackson, a Democrat from Texas. Jackson moved into the seat when the airline informed her that there had been a recent cancellation.
But Simon claims she never canceled her flight. And so far, the airline has yet to provide proof that she had, even though they claim that she must have done so on her mobile app.
“I’m not some AARP grandmother who doesn’t know how to use a phone,” said Simon. “I know how to cancel a flight and I did not cancel this flight,” she said, adding, “Why would I ever cancel the second segment? United furnished no proof that I canceled. And why didn’t I reserve another flight?”
The controversy seems only to have magnified in the days since the flight, which has been stirred in part by Jackson’s claims that Simon is targeting her because she is African American.
“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,” wrote Jackson. “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’s beef isn’t with Jackson, although she adamantly denies that race had anything to do with her reaction; rather, her concern is with United, whom she feels did not treat her fairly. Though she was given a $500 voucher and another seat assignment, she is asking simply for an apology.
In its defense, United issued a statement explaining their procedure when an open seat becomes available: “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.”
Still, the only apology Simon has received has been from a low-level employer operating from a call center. She hasn’t yet heard from any executive from the airline.
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