Toddler Has Ticket, But UA Makes Mom Hold Him For 3.5 Hours

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

A Hawaii teacher says she was forced to hold her strapping toddler son in her lap for a 3.5-hour flight because of a mix-up in UA’s system – and despite the fact she had paid nearly $1,000 for his ticket. 

“It was unsafe, uncomfortable and unfair," Shirley Yamauchi told NBC News. "I couldn’t believe it was happening to me." 

Yamauchi said the seat she purchased for her 27-month old, 25-pound son was given to a standby passenger. She said she purchased two tickets — at almost $1,000 each — for a trip from Hawaii to Boston with a layover in Houston.

After waiting more than five hours last Thursday in IAH to board, Yamauchi said she and her son were exhausted. Once they were seated, a flight attendant came to see if Yamauchi’s son, Taizo, who was in his seat, was on the plane. 

Yamauchi said a man who was a standby passenger approached her and said her son was in his seat. She said she notified a flight attendant about the confusion but, “She shrugged and said the flight is full.” 

Yamauchi, 42, said she had to quickly place her son, who stands half as tall as her 5’2”, on her lap. She said the standby passenger was one of the last people to board the plane. The flight quickly departed after he sat down and no other flight attendants questioned her about her son, she said. 

The teacher claims for the entire duration of the flight, no one addressed her having her son in her lap despite her struggling to put the seat belt over both of them. Taizo had to stand or crouch on the floor because Yamauchi said he became too heavy to hold.

“He’s tall child for a toddler. He comes up to my belly button.” 

UA ticketing guidelines state: “Once infants turn two years old, they are required to have a purchased ticket and occupy a seat.” 

Yamauchi said she was worried about alerting another flight attendant to the situation due to highly publicized recent incidents on UA. 

“I had hoped United had changed their policy after the Dr. Dao incident. If I were travelling by myself without my child, I would have spoken up a little louder or more forcefully,” Yamauchi said.

 “I had an email from Oscar Munoz saying they were going to do better," Yamauchi said referencing the customer email the airline's CEO sent following the public's response to Dr. Dao's injuries. 

On landing, Yamauchi says she informed multiple United staff members about what happened. “I was told four different things from four agents,” she said. One told her that she should have said something when she was on board.

United contacted Yamauchi Tuesday and told her that her son's ticket will be refunded and she will be sent a travel voucher. 

Spokesman Jonathan Guerin said in a statement, “On a recent flight, 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. We deeply apologize to Ms. Yamauchi and her son for this experience.” 

Not surprisingly, Yamauchi is unsatisfied with the explanation and the compensation. 

“I saw them zap both tickets. There was no issue, no problem. They let us through. It just doesn’t add up. It’s very weird,” she said.

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