A teacher traveling from Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas, has accused United Airlines of taking her first class seat and giving it to a US congresswoman.
Jean-Marie Simon, from Washington DC, was traveling home from a trip to Guatemala when her first class seat was allegedly taken from her and given to US Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).
In a Facebook post, Simon wrote that she saw the congresswoman get ushered onto the plane before all other passengers.
When it was time to board the 18 December flight, Simon was told by a gate attendant that her ticket was not in the system. Simon said the gate agent not only could not find her seat, but also could not find her ticket or name.
"The gate agent called over a second United agent who informed that I had no seat, not just the first class seat I had purchased, but no seat, period," Simon wrote. "I didn't even have a reservation any more."
Simon was first told she may have cancelled her own reservation, before being told that united.com had changed her reservation about an hour earlier and that another passenger had been upgraded to her seat.
"I said I wanted my seat, that I had paid a lot of miles for that seat, and that it was United's responsibility to undo the seat assignment and return it to me, the person who had paid for it," she wrote.
The United agent offered Simon a $300 voucher or told her she could buy a seat on a flight with a different airline. "I said I wanted $500 and a free meal. He said, 'And I want a Mercedes Benz, but that's not going to happen,'" she said.
Simon said she was the last passenger on the plane and that a Texas congressman sat down next to her. He allegedly told Simon that Jackson Lee "regularly does this" and that this was the third time he had witnessed her bump a passenger. He allegedly added: "Jackson Lee gives us all a bad name; it's shameful."
She then decided to walk to the front of the plane and take a picture of Jackson Lee in seat 1A. Minutes later a flight attendant came over and asked if she was "going to cause any problems". Simon was then warned she would be escorted off the plane if she did.
"United lied to me, repeatedly. They put Jackson Lee on the plane and then tried to blame it... on everybody but the United employee who deliberately erased my seat, my ticket, and my name from the system in order to accommodate a member of Congress who repeatedly bullies her way into favoured status," Simon said.
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Jackson Lee denied being the cause of the seat switch and said it "was not any fault of mine". Jackson Lee said that "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 added: "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."
Meanwhile, United maintains that Simon cancelled her own flight. Simon has requested a formal, written apology from United.