A United Airlines Boeing 787 taxis as a United Airlines Boeing 767 lands at San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California, February 7, 2015.
A United Airlines Boeing 787 taxis as a United Airlines Boeing 767 lands at San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California, February 7, 2015. Reuters/Louis Nastro/File Photo

United Airlines is once again in hot water after a passenger complained that its staff forced her to give away her 2-year-old son’s paid seat for a standby passenger last week. Hawaii teacher Shirley Yamauchi said she had to hold her 25-pound child on her lap during the three and a half-hour flight because a staff didn’t care to be bothered about the problem.

Yamauchi told Hawaii News Now that she bought two airline tickets – one for her and another for her son – for a teacher conference in Boston three months ago. The tickets cost US$969 (AU$1,276) each. The first leg of their 18-hour trip on Thursday – from Hawaii to Houston – went fine; it was when they stopped in Houston that things went sour.

The middle school teacher said a flight attendant came to check if her son, Taizo, was present. It was obvious that he was because the child was sitting on his assigned seat, but another passenger still showed up to claim the seat for himself. The standby passenger only paid US$75 (AU$99) for his ticket.

“I told him that I bought both of these tickets and he tells me he got the ticket on standby. Then he proceeds to sit in the centre,” she was quoted by the publication as saying. Yamauchi told the flight attendant the problem but the woman just shrugged and left after telling her the flight was full.

“I had to move my son onto my lap. He’s 25 pounds. He’s half my height. I was very uncomfortable. My hand, my left arm was smashed up against the wall. I lost feeling in my legs and left arm,” she said.

The US Federal Aviation Administration strongly urges against a child sitting on another person’s lap during the flight. Hence, the airline requests that children 2 years old and above have their own seat.

Yamauchi opted not to speak up because she remembered the previous incidents the US airline had been involved in, most notably the incident with David Dao, who was captured on camera as he was being violently dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight in April. She said she was scared to complain because the same thing might happen to her and her son. She noted that she and Dao were both Asians.

As she did not receive help from the staff aboard, she spoke to agents at the gate, who directed her to a hotline number. She was told by a customer service rep on the phone that they would have to cancel the rest of their flight arrangements to Hawaii if they refunded her then.

United Airlines has since offered its apology to Yamauchi, claiming her son’s boarding pass was incorrectly scanned. “On a recent flight from Houston to Boston, we inaccurately scanned the boarding pass of Ms Yamauchi’s son. As a result, her son’s seat appeared to be not checked in and staff released his seat to another customer and Ms Yamauchi held her son for the flight,” a spokesperson from the airline told Island News.

“We deeply apologise to Ms Yamauchi and her son for this experience. 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.”

Read more:
United Airlines disturbing video of a passenger violently kicked off a plane
No more lawsuits: United Airlines reaches settlement with David Dao