A middle school teacher from Hawaii was left feeling "scared" and "uncomfortable" aboard a United Airlines flight after being forced to hold her 27-month-old child in her lap despite having already paid for his seat. The airline later apologized, gave the woman a travel voucher and refunded the cost of her son's ticket.
Shirley Yamauchi was flying the final three-and-a-half-hour leg of an 18-hour trip from Hawaii to Boston to attend a teacher's conference. She had bought tickets for herself and her toddler son, Taizo, three months in advance.
According to airline standards, children aged 2 and older are required to have a separate seat bought for them on each flight. Yamauchi paid $969 for Taizo's ticket, KITV reports.
"He and I, we had both our tickets scanned, we both went on board no problem," Yamauchi said.
Once on board, a passenger who bought his ticket on standby claimed Yamauchi's son's seat belonged to him. An airline attendant had reportedly asked if Taizo was present, then shrugged and told Yamauchi that the flight was full.
Airline agents directed Yamauchi to a customer service hotline number, according to KITV. When she finally reached a representative, she was told that refunding the flight would also cancel her arrangements back to Hawaii. The adjusted return flight would ultimately cost more.
Yamauchi recounted the incident on Facebook, along with several pictures.
"This is the flight attendant," Yamauchi wrote next to one of the images she posted on Facebook. "Her name is Lynn (s.p. ?). She confirmed with me that the child was onboard. Shortly thereafter, a man from Maine, in business attire was seated next to me. He told me later that he was ninth on the standby list and had paid $75 for the seat."
Yamauchi added: "I had to move my son onto my lap. He's 25 pounds. He's half my height... My hand, my left arm was smashed up against the wall. I lost feeling in my legs and left arm."
United's image has been in question ever since a video of the violent removal of an Asian-American passenger from an overbooked flight went viral in April. Since then, a number of negative stories involving the airline have been reported, the most recent of which was an incident in June where an infant overheated on a delayed Colorado flight.
"'I started remembering all those incidents with United on the news," Yamauchi said. "The violence. Teeth getting knocked out. I'm Asian. I'm scared and I felt uncomfortable. I didn't want those things to happen to me."
Taizo had to stand between her knees for both of them to fit in the seat. The Federal Aviation Administration advises against riding with a child on one's lap, as the child cannot be properly secured during turbulence, the Daily Mail reports.
On July 4, Yamauchi told KITV she wanted a refund and apology for the incident.
Later that day, KHNL reported that UA had apologized.
"We deeply apologize to Ms. Yamauchi and her son for this experience," a UA spokesperson said. "We are refunding her son's ticket and providing a travel voucher. We are also working with our gate staff to prevent this from happening again."
The airline claimed Taizo's ticket had been improperly scanned when he was checked in, allowing his seat to be reassigned.
Despite the airline's apology, Yamauchi says she's unlikely to fly United again.
"I had bought both of these tickets way in advance," she said. "We did the two hour check-in time before boarding. I had my receipts. I had my boarding pass. Yet this happened."