Democratic legislator's flight dust-up is just the latest airline controversy

From a lawyer who claims United Airlines gave her seat away to a Democratic congresswoman, to a singer allegedly barred from an airline lounge over her footwear, airline controversies are neither few nor far between.

The rising prominence of social media, and a near-monopoly of the airline industry, are contributing to the growing news of airline customers being unduly inconvenienced as they travel, attorney Arthur Alan Wolk, who specializes in aviation law, told Fox News.

These incidents are “happening more because airlines feel that they’re empowered to abuse their passengers more and feel that there are no consequences,” Wolk said.

Wolk says that chances of the airline industry improving for customers is bleak, even “nil.”

Read on for a look at some recent airline controversies.

Political privilege?

United passenger Jean-Marie Simon says the airline gave her first-class seat on a Dec. 18 flight to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat. United, Simon claims, threatened to yank her from the flight after she complained and took a photo of the politician, the Houston Chronicle reports. 

A gate attendant at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston told Simon during boarding that her ticket wasn’t in the system, the newspaper reported. Told her seat was taken, Simon was reportedly put in Economy Plus and received a $500 voucher.

“We were concerned by this issue and took immediate steps to fully understand what happened. 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 told Fox News in a statement. “As part of the normal preboarding process, gate agents began clearing standby and upgrade customers, including the first customer on the waitlist for an upgrade.”

United also said it contacted Simon “to explain what occurred, to apologize for her experience, and will be offering compensation as a gesture of goodwill.”

Jackson Lee said in a Facebook post, "I asked for nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary and received nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary."

Simon, who says she didn’t cancel her ticket, also took a photo of Jackson-Lee on the plane. 

The lawmaker, the Chronicle noted, said in her statement that she could hear Simon talking to an African-American flight attendant and that Simon took a photo. 

“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,” she wrote. “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 told the Chronicle that the congresswoman's remarks were accusing 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; there is no way you can see who is in a seat from inside the terminal,” Simon told the newspaper. 

Simon also claimed that several minutes after taking the photo, a separate flight attendant asked whether she “was going to be a problem,” but that Simon said she only wanted to head home.

Simon later reportedly penned a letter to United’s CEO, publishing it on social media. A "resolution manager" subsequently contacted her and apologized at least a half-dozen times, according to her account. 

Simon, who is seeking a written apology, said Monday on Facebook that she hasn’t received one yet.

Footwear fail

English singer Joanne Catherall, a vocalist for The Human League, made international headlines this month after she said that she was denied entry to a business-class Qantas lounge in Melbourne, Australia. 

“Denied access @Qantas business class lounge in @MelairMelbourne Airport apparently Ugg (Australia) Boots are deemed sleepwear by the lady working there although no problem in any of the other lounges so far,” she tweeted. “Helpfully she suggested I go to one of the shops & purchase some shoes.”

“Hi Joanne, we endeavour to remain consistent and uphold our Lounge's dress guidelines to all our guests,” the airline tweeted, including a link to its domestic-lounge dress guidelines, which considers Uggs sleepwear.

“Why would an @UGG boot I wear outdoors in all weathers be classed as sleepwear in @Qantas lounge but nowhere else that I have ever been on this earth ?” Catherall asked.

“Hi Joanne, we don't accept them in our lounges as you can see on the dress-guidelines,” another airline tweet said.

“Strange I had no problem in either the Perth or Adelaide @Qantas lounges wearing my Uggs even though they are apparently on the no go list in those 2 airports as well,” Catherall tweeted.

The airline's reply here? “Understood Joanne, bear in mind each lounge is subject to the discretion of the team. We'll pass your feedback on so we can improve our services.”

“We completely understand that no one likes being declined at the door but we've always had smart casual dress standards for our lounges, which are similar for those in place for most clubs and restaurants,” a Qantas spokesperson told The Independent. "Over the past couple of years, we have had clear feedback from lounge members that they wanted these existing guidelines to be applied more rigorously."

Lewd comments

Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's sister, claimed that a fellow passenger on her Alaska Airlines flight to Mexico made "lewd sexual remarks" toward her.

Zuckerberg claims that the staff on the flight last month stood by and let it happen, with one flight attendant reportedly telling her, “Don’t take it personally, this guy just doesn’t have a filter.”

Shortly after her flight, Zuckerberg penned a letter to Alaska Airlines detailing the incident.

“He started talking to me about touching himself, kept asking me if I fantasized about the female business colleague I was traveling with, rated and commented on the women’s bodies boarding the aircraft as they walked by us, and many more equally horrifying and offensive comments,” she said in the letter, as seen in her Twitter post.

Alaska Airlines began an investigation into the incident, the airline said in a tweet.

The passenger who allegedly made the comments was temporarily suspended from the airline, Zuckerberg wrote in a later tweet.

Mother's concern

Harvard Law student Briana Williams claims she and her daughter were booted from an American Airlines flight this summer after she requested the 4-year-old's stroller while the plane was delayed, the New York Daily News reported.

Williams, 24, told the newspaper their Aug. 21. New York City-bound flight was delayed for several hours. The plane reportedly went back to the gate and passengers were told to get off.

Williams asked the airline staff for the stroller, which had been checked, while she was exiting, the paper recounted. The staff declined.

“I told a crew member that I was not going to be leaving the aircraft without my stroller,” Williams said. She later spoke to the "very disgruntled and aggressive" pilot, and says he contacted police to boot her from the flight.

Williams and her daughter were put on a flight in the morning, the report said.

“The pilot put me in a potentially dangerous situation with law enforcement as a young, black woman, saying that I was a ‘threat,’” Williams, who intends to pursue legal action, told the paper. "This type of rhetoric paralyzes the African-American community, and I want to ensure that policies are put in place that regulate the pilot’s discretionary abilities.”

She says she turned down American's offer of 25,000 miles.

The airline told Fox News putting her on a different flight was in "the best interest of everyone involved," and said it offered her the miles. The carrier also said it "does not tolerate discrimination of any kind."


Patriotic display

In October, a Georgia woman said she was prohibited from singing the national anthem with fellow passengers aboard a Delta flight which was also carrying one of the four U.S. troops killed that same month during an attack in Niger.

Pamela Dee Gaudry, who is married to a Vietnam War veteran, enlisted the support of other passengers and planned to sing the anthem to honor the fallen soldier and his family. But in a now-viral Facebook video, Gaudry said she was prevented from singing by the chief flight attendant, who informed her the song was against Delta’s policies.

She also said in her video that she was “humiliated” by what she saw as her “lack of courage” for following orders and not singing.

Since her video, Gaudry said she has been offered an apology from Delta, and the airline also confirmed that the national anthem is not against its policies.

Seat change without explanation

In a series of tweets, right-wing commentator Ann Coulter slammed Delta for giving away her seat to another woman on a flight from New York to West Palm Beach, Florida, on July 15.

Coulter later told Fox News that as she was boarding, a “ticket agent snatched the ticket" and informed her that her seat had changed due to an “emergency.”


She said that she sat in the original seat anyway until she was told to move by a stewardess who was not able to give an explanation for the seat change.

“[The other passenger] was not an elderly person, was not a sickly person, a very tall person,” Coulter said.

Party of five

A family of five said they were unfairly kicked off a JetBlue flight on July 2 after a confrontation with an airline employee.

Tamir and Mandy Raanan said they were traveling from Fort Lauderdale to New York with their three young daughters – one of whom kicked the back of another passenger’s seat.

Mandy said she apologized to the other passenger, but the family were still asked to leave the plane.

JetBlue said in a statement that the incident was not as innocent as described. “After a verbal altercation that included physical threats and profanities against a nearby customer, the aircraft door was reopened and our airports team politely asked the customers to step off to discuss the situation,” JetBlue said.

The airline thanked its employees for their “professional handling” of the situation and said it would “investigate whether the customers’ behavior warrants restrictions on JetBlue travel” in the future.

Quite the ‘erreur’

Lucie Bahetoukilae, who only speaks French, handed her ticket to an airline employee and boarded a plane in Newark, New Jersey, thinking the next stop would be Paris. When she got to her seat and found another woman in it, a flight attendant sat her in an empty seat.

Nearly 3,000 miles later, Bahetoukilae touched down in San Francisco.

In what United Airlines deemed a “horrible failure” in May, Bahetoukilae boarded the wrong plane after her flight’s gate switched at the last minute. She said the announcement wasn’t made in French, and she didn’t receive an email notifying her of the gate change.


Once in San Francisco, Bahetoukilae had to wait 11 hours before United was able to get her on a flight to France.

"She could have been a terrorist and killed people on that flight and they didn't know they didn't catch it."

- Diane Miantsoko

Diane Miantsoko, the woman’s niece, told WABC-TV that she was worried about United’s security protocol.

"With everything going on in this country, people have to be more careful," Miantsoko said. "They didn't pay attention. My aunt could have been anyone. She could have been a terrorist and killed people on that flight and they didn't know they didn't catch it."

United apologized for the mistake in a statement and said it is “working with our team in Newark to prevent this from happening again.”

Whose seat is it, anyway?

Delta apologized after a California couple and their two children were booted from an overbooked plane when the parents refused to give up an extra seat they had purchased.

Brian Schear said he, his wife and two children boarded a flight from Maui, Hawaii,  to Los Angeles on April 23 and were asked to give up an additional seat they had purchased for their older son -- he had ended up taking a different flight. Since the son wasn’t present, Schear said the family planned to use his seat for one of the younger children.


But the flight was overbooked, and Schear was asked to give up the seat. When the family refused, they were made to leave the plane. The family booked new tickets home on another airline.

“We are sorry for the unfortunate experience our customers had with Delta, and we’ve reached out to them to refund their travel and provide additional compensation,” the airline said.

‘I’d rather go to jail’

Dr. David Dao was seated on a United fight in Chicago bound for Louisville, Kentucky, on April 9 when he was asked to give up his seat on an overbooked flight to make room for crew members.

Dao refused, explaining that he was a doctor who needed to be at work early the next morning.

"I’d rather go to jail."

- David Dao

“I’m not going,” Dao repeatedly said. “I’d rather go to jail.”

Disturbing cellphone footage showing Dao being dragged off the plane, seemingly unconscious, by security officials went viral. During the altercation, Dao suffered a concussion, lost two of his teeth and broke his nose, his attorney said.

Dao and United “reached an amicable settlement” later in April.

“We look forward to implementing the improvements we have announced, which will put our customers at the center of everything we do,” United said in a statement at the time of the settlement.

Fox News' Kaitlyn Schallhorn and Madeline Farber contributed to this report.