Passenger claims United gave away first-class seat to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Passenger claims United gave away first-class seat to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee
© Anne Wernikoff

A woman on a United Airlines flight from Houston, Texas, to Washington, D.C., accused the airline of giving her seat away to Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeLawmakers roll out legislation to defend pipelines against cyber threats Victims' relatives hold Capitol Hill meetings to push police reform Democrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote MORE (D-Texas). 

The airline and the lawmaker denied the claim, and Jackson Lee suggested racism was involved in the complaint.

Jean-Marie Simon said she had purchased a first-class ticket for the last leg of her trip from Guatemala to Washington earlier this year on Dec. 3, when she was told by a flight attendant at the gate that her ticket was not in the system.


The airline issued Simon a $500 voucher and she was reassigned to the plane's economy section. 

United issued a statement saying that after an investigation, they found that Simon appeared to have canceled her flight.

"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," United said.  

Simon denied she canceled her fight. 

Simon went to the front of the plane prior to taking off and took a picture of the congresswoman and complained to a flight attendant. 

Jackson Lee issued a statement, saying she had not asked for anything exceptional. 

"I asked for nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary and received nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary," the congresswoman said. 

She went on to point out that the flight attendant, who was black, was an easy target for Simon. 

"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. 

"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 pushed back on the statement, telling The Houston Chronicle "I had no idea who was in my seat when I complained at the gate that my seat had been given to someone else."

United faced backlash earlier this year when a passenger was injured after he was forcibly dragged off of the plane when he refused to give up his seat to make room for crew members.