I had a telephone conversation with United Airlines yesterday about the events surrounding the Washington, DC woman who found herself booted from first class and a Congresswoman in her original seat.
If you missed out on yesterday’s post, you can find out background about this case and direct testimony from all three parties here.
We have three alleged victims in this case. Jean-Marie Simon believes she is the victim for losing her first class seat. Congresswoman Shiela Jackson Lee believes she is the victim of racism. And United Airlines believes it is the victim of a rush to judgement.
Much of the specifics of my conversation with United yesterday were off-the-record, but United walked me through its timeline of what occurred and corroborated its story with screenshots from SHARES, the Passenger Service System (PSS) that essentially makes United run behind the scenes.
Why off the record? United claimed that its system is proprietary and doesn’t want screenshots of it out on the internet, especially because this involved a particular passenger record. But the system looks something like this–
Did it Satisfy Me?
Well, yes and no. I appreciate that United is taking the issue seriously and I never blamed United as an institution for this issue, even noting my personal experience in seeing a Member of Congress receive preferential treatment. There is a difference between clearing upgrades out of order for VIPs and booting someone out of their seat. I am not 100% convinced this was not a rogue agent in Houston.
That said, based upon the time stamp in SHARES, it does appear that passenger cancelled her reservation using the United App.
I still have a number of questions that United has not answered, including these follow-up questions I sent to United (verbatim):
1. When she cancelled her segment, did she rebook herself on another segment? Did the app offer her another option? In my experience using the app, it won’t just allow a cancellation but will offer an alternate option. Why would the app suggest to her to cancel her quickest connection to DC?
2. We’ve heard her side of the story on Facebook, which admittedly seems quite reasonable/believable to me. I appreciate the evidence in SHARES, which helps to paint a different picture. But have you also spoken to FAs and gate agents, including the male IAH gate agent she claims was rude and condescending to her? Was she rude and verbally abusive with the gate agents? Was she offered another option, say to IAD or BWI in first class or a later flight to DCA?
3. What what happened the proper procedure for an instance like this? Is it documented in any official policy? I’ve seen similar instances and the upgraded passengers is always re-accomodated in economy class and the paid passenger given her original seat back. Should this have occurred here?
4. Is there any time-stamp of her entering the United Club where she claims she spent her layover? If so, it is assumedly before her final flight was canceled?
5. Is there any SHARES evidence that the reservation was cancelled from a mobile app logged into her account?
If United chooses to answer these, I will include them in a follow-up post. I want to get to the bottom of this issue. But United did offer one reason for refusing to pull off Congresswoman Jackson Lee that it has not offered elsewhere.
One Reason Why Jackson Lee Kept Her Seat
Remember United’s 10-point customer service commitment released after the Dao incident?
One pillar of that plan is–
Not require customers seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk
And let’s admit it, doesn’t that apply here? It is the best defense United has given as to why it could not restore the passenger’s original seat assignment (though to be clear, United insists the customer cancelled the reservation herself). The upgraded passenger, Jackson Lee, had already boarded and did not present a safety or security risk.
Let’s assume for a moment Jackson Lee was just an innocent bystander, as she contends. She already pulled the race card in an astoundingly unfair way. Imagine if she had been booted from her upgraded first class seat for a white woman. Oh man…I can only imagine the headlines.
That said, while this incident explains (potentially) why Simon could not be re-seated in first class, it doesn’t get to the bottom of what happened.
The Congresswoman Poured Gas on This Issue
Even if United is truly innocent in this case, and I just don’t think United would plant false evidence in SHARES, the Congresswoman has made this issue much worse than it had to be.
By insinuating passive-aggressively that the passenger was racist, she brings scrutiny upon herself and United. By framing her words in an ambiguous way (“I asked for nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary and received nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary”) she invites doubt over her actions and motives. Why not just say she asked for nothing…?
And it doesn’t escape me that it is primarily Alt-Right sources that are covering this. I am not one of those sources and reject the very race-bating in this country perpetrated by Breitbart on the right and Jackson Lee on the left.
We’ll have to mark this issue as still developing, but I wanted to provide this update. The passenger’s reservation was canceled via the mobile app at 11:22a CT, when the delay was announced.