A mom purchased a pricey $1,000 seat on a flight for her son, only to be forced to give it up after she boarded. United Airlines tried to make things right, but the woman says it’s not good enough. Was it? You decide.
Shirley Yamauchi, a middle school teacher, was traveling with her 27-month old son Taizo from Hawaii to Boston with a layover in Houston. Since federal regulations require any child over 2-years-old to have their own seat, Shirley spent nearly $1000 for Taizo’s ticket.
After waiting over five hours to board in Houston, an exhausted Shirley put Taizo in his seat and took her own. Shortly after, she said a flight attendant came to see if Taizo was on the plane. Then, a man approached and said the toddler was in his seat after the seat Shirley purchased for Taizo was given to a standby passenger.
Confused, Shirley notified a flight attendant, but claims, “She shrugged and said the flight is full,” even though United’s own guidelines state, “Once infants turn two years old, they are required to have a purchased ticket and occupy a seat.”
The standby passenger, who later told Shirley he only paid $75 for the seat, was one of the last people to board and the flight was about to depart. So, Shirley, who’s only 5’2″, hastily paced her 25-pound son on her lap, forced to hold the toddler in her lap for the three-and-a-half-hour flight from Houston to Boston.
During the flight, Shirley struggled to put the seat belt over them both and Taizo even had to stand or crouch on the floor when he became too heavy to hold. Yet, flight attendants failed to question or address the issue.
“He’s a tall child for a toddler. He comes up to my belly button. It was a three and a half hours flight,” Shirley explained. “It was unsafe, uncomfortable, and unfair,” she told NBC News. “I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.”
Due to previous problems on United flights, Shirley was afraid to alert another attendant, worried what might happen to her while she was traveling with her child if she caused on an issue. Instead, she waited until the flight landed to inform multiple United staff members about what happened.
“I was told four different things from four agents,” she recalled, adding that one told her she should have said something more while she was on board. Days later, United Airlines issued a statement saying it was all just a mix-up in their system.
“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,” United Airlines spokesman Jonathan Guerin said, apologizing to Shirley Yamauchi and her son for the experience.
The airline said the ticket for Shirley’s son would be refunded and she would also receive a travel voucher. But, Shirley wasn’t satisfied. “I saw them zap both tickets. There was no issue, no problem. They let us through,” she said, refuting the explanation the airline gave for the mix-up. Shirley doesn’t agree with the compensation either and decided to sue.
“It doesn’t seem right or enough for pain and discomfort,” she said. “United said they would change and I want to see that happen. I don’t want any more passengers possibly in danger,” Shirley explained, saying she hopes her lawsuit will help protect other passengers from this type of treatment, Hawaii News Now reported.
Attorney Michael Green agrees that the airline needs to be stopped from putting lives at risk. “United deserves everything we can do to them. We’ll let the people decide what to do to people that are this greedy and put lives potentially in danger,” Green said.
Shirley and Green have a point. United Airlines broke federal regulations. A child older than 2-years-old needs to have a seat of their own. What’s more, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) makes it clear that flying with a child in your lap is not safe.
“Your arms aren’t capable of holding your child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence,” FAA states. The FAA even goes a step further, strongly urging parents to secure their child in a government-approved child safety restraint system (CRS) or device, saying, “It’s the smart and right thing to do so that everyone in your family arrives safely.”
“Don’t do it. Flying with a baby — no matter how small — in your lap puts him at risk of injury or even death if the plane hits severe turbulence,” Consumer Reports warns, encouraging parents to pay for the additional seat.
Not only did this mother not get what she paid for, but the staff also ignored safety requirements for their passengers — all in order to make a little extra cash. It seems profits are the only language some airlines seem to speak, so maybe Shirley Yamauchi is right to believe change won’t happen until the airline’s mistakes drastically affect their bottom line.