Democrat Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee rode comfortably back to Washington D.C. this week after reportedly booting school teacher and human rights activist Jean-Marie Simon out of first class on a United Airlines flight. The background:
A passenger on a flight from Houston to Washington D.C. has accused United Airlines of giving her first-class seat to U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. D-Houston, and then threatening to remove her from the plane for complaining and snapping a photo of the Houston congresswoman.
"It was just so completely humiliating," said Jean-Marie Simon, a 63-year-old attorney and private school teacher who used 140,000 miles on Dec. 3 to purchase the first-class tickets to take her from Washington D.C. to Guatemala and back home.
When it came time to board the last leg of her flight home from George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Dec. 18, after a roughly hour-long weather delay, Simon said the gate attendant scanned her paper ticket and told her it was not in the system.
Did you cancel your flight?, the attendant asked.
"No," she said she replied. "I just want to go home."
Her seat, 1A, was taken, she was told. Simon was given a $500 voucher and reseated in row 11, Economy Plus.
Simon later learned that Jackson Lee was in her pre-purchased seat and has alleged that the congresswoman received preferential treatment, which United denies.
When the teacher, who works with kids in Guatemala, issued a complaint to the airline and wrote about the incident on her Facebook page, Sheila Jackson Lee predictably accused Simon of racism. United accused her of cancelling her own flight, which she did not do.
"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."
United maintains they did not boot Simon from her seat to accommodate Jackson Lee and has not issued an apology. Jackson Lee continues to claim she did not ask for "anything out of the ordinary."
Politicians regularly book multiple flights and first-class seats using taxpayer money. In 2015, Republicans and Democrats introduced legislation to ban Congress from taking taxpayer funded first class seats.
“Efficient travel to and from Congressional districts contributes to effective execution of the official duties of members of Congress. As with all federal spending, Member’s Representational Allowance is funded by taxpayer dollars. Therefore, it is the responsibility of elected Representatives to use the utmost efficiency and transparency when conducting official business," Republican Congressman Paul Gosar said in a statement at the time.
“Currently, a loophole exists that allows members of Congress to fly first-class at the expense of the American taxpayer. When we have rules in place not allowing our military to fly first class, there is absolutely no reason Members of Congress should be treated any different. Furthermore, luxury airfare accommodations utilizing taxpayer monies would seem inappropriate in any fiscal climate, but at a time of soaring deficits and with a federal debt in excess of $18 trillion, such expenditures are especially wasteful. Elected leaders are public servants of the people and shouldn’t be considered a privileged class.”