Jean-Marie Simon, a 63-year-old attorney and private school teacher, was on a loooooong trip back home.
On December 3, Simon had used 140,000 of her frequent flyer miles to buy a first-class, round-trip ticket from Washington, D.C. to Guatemala. On December 18, she was heading back home, flying from Guatemala to D.C. through George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.
But when Simon went to board her flight for the final leg of her trip, the gate attendant who scanned her paper ticket told her she wasn't in the system — at all. No trace.
"It was just so completely humiliating," she said.
The attendant asked Simon if she had canceled her ticket, and she said, "No. I just want to go home." But Simon was told that the seat she had purchased, 1A — the seat she held a hard ticket for — was already taken. United Airlines offered her a $500 voucher and another ticket in Row 11, Economy Plus. She took it.
When Simon boarded, she saw someone in "her" seat, but not until later did she learn it was Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat.
Simon posted a lengthy narrative about her ordeal on Facebook, alleging that The Washington Post killed the story:
As a United customer for a decade (Gold Elite) and a reader of the Washington Post for 20 years, I never thought I'd be posting this: the WP killed the story because they thought it was "too much ambiguity about exactly what happened," despite the fact that I sent them copies of my boarding pass, my original receipt, my letter to United CEO Óscar Muñoz, and the photo of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. So they got suckered by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and the absurd claim that a passenger headed for home in DC would cancel the second segment of her flight. Moreover, as the WP was killing the story, I received three voicemails from United customer service, with "apologies" for what happened and asking me to get in touch with them.
Here is the photo of Jackson Lee in my seat, the one I paid for, on United flight #788, sitting next to the man who apologized to me for her behavior.
Does anyone recognize the gentleman next to Jackson Lee? He may be a congressman.
Please share this story: although I want an apology from United, this is really more about how this kind of behavior by an airline continues to go unchallenged.
That's right: United said Simon had canceled the second leg of her flight home. Not exactly the move you'd expect from a savvy Gold Elite flyer.
"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 in a statement. "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."
Simon said not true, that she never canceled her ticket.
Jackson Lee issued a statement on Saturday afternoon saying: "I asked for nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary and received nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary."
But Jackson Lee did get special treatment. Simon said she saw the Democrat — whom she didn't know at that point — board the plane with a flight attendant before all other passengers. Simon said that during a weather delay, she snapped a photo of Jackson Lee in "her" seat.
And that prompted the congresswoman to do what she does best: Charge racism.
"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," Jackson Lee said in the statement. "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."
But Simon said she complained about her lost seat before she knew who was in it. "I had no idea who was in my seat when I complained at the gate that my seat had been given to someone else," she said, according to the Houston Chronicle. "There is no way you can see who is in a seat from inside the terminal."
"About five minutes after Simon took the photo on the plane, Simon said, another flight attendant sat next her and asked if she 'was going to be a problem,'" the Chronicle reported.
She said the plane took off at 12:50 p.m. and she arrived home that night, still upset. Simon wrote a letter to airline's CEO and posted it on Facebook and Twitter. A "resolution manager" called her Saturday morning and apologized at least a half-dozen times, she said.
She said she wants a formal, written apology from United.
"It's just impossible to suspend disbelief and swallow that story that I cancelled my flight," Simon said.
But Simon was lucky. At least United Airlines didn't have her dragged off the plane after knocking her unconscious, like they did to Dr. David Dao.