A woman has accused United Airlines of removing her from her first-class seat to accommodate a senior politician.
Jean-Marie Simon, 63, was getting ready to board her flight back home to Washington D.C. from George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston on Dec. 18 when a flight attendant told her that her ticket was not in the system, Daily Mail reported.
The attendant asked Simon if she had canceled her ticket; she replied that she had not. The flight had been delayed for an hour due to weather.
Simon was informed that the seat she had purchased was taken. The airline then gave her a $500 voucher along with another ticket for the same flight in the economy section.
When she boarded the plane, though, Simon noticed her original seat was taken by senior Democratic congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. She took a photo of Jackson Lee and told a flight attendant she believed she was removed from her seat to accommodate the senior politician.
The airline denied Simon's claims.
"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 Airlines 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."
Jackson Lee has since responded to reports of the incident.
"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 a 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."
Simon responded to Jackson Lee's statement, saying she believes the senior congresswoman accused her of racism.
"I had no idea who was in my seat when I complained at the gate that my seat had been given to someone else," Simon told the Houston Chronicle. "There is no way you can see who is in a seat from inside the terminal."
Simon added that she wants a formal, written apology from the airline.
"It's just impossible to suspend disbelief and swallow that story that I canceled my flight," Simon said.