According to a news report published by the Houston Chronicle, Jean-Marie Simon had accumulated more than 100,000 frequent flier miles to purchase round-trip tickets from the District of Columbia to Guatemala; she was able to upgrade to first-class using her considerable mileage accumulation, but she was surprised to find that her seat on the flight from Houston back to D.C. had been given to Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democratic lawmaker who represents Houston and often travels aboard United when she needs to be in Capitol Hill.
When Simon complained about being bumped off her seat, airline employees threatened her with forcible removal from the aircraft. The situation appears to have originated from a lack of synchronization between the United mobile application and the reservation system. United employees believed that Simon had canceled her flight even though her reservation appeared to be inactive on the mobile app.
Simon had paper tickets that were scanned prior to boarding; she was told at the gate that her reservation appeared to be canceled and that she could only be seated on the economy section. Representative Jackson was on a waiting list for the first-class section, and she was upgraded prior to Simon’s arrival at the gate. Simon was given a $500 voucher, but she was then told that she would be removed after she used her smartphone to take a picture of Representative Jackson, who had already boarded and taken the window seat in the first row of the aircraft.
The Congresswoman issued a statement about the situation, which unfortunately made things worse since she believes that Simon may have been upset with the idea of being bumped off for the purpose of giving a seat to an African American woman. Simon wrote a letter to United and posted her statement to Facebook; she eventually received an apology from an customer service manager, but questions remain about the mysterious cancellation that reportedly originated from her smartphone.
It has not been a good year for United Air Lines; this is the same carrier that came under heavy criticism over the violent treatment given to Dr. David Dao, an Asian American passenger who refused to give up his seat on an overbooked flight and was ultimately ejected by force by airport security officers who also broke his nose.