Shirley Yamauchi said she was forced to hold her two-year-old in her lap for the duration of a three-and-a-half-hour flight last week, USA Today reports. Though she’d paid almost $1,000 for him to have his own seat, United overbooked the flight and a passenger standby flying for $75 printed a ticket with the seat number as her son’s.
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“It was very shocking. I was confused. I told him, I bought both of these seats. The flight attendant came by, shrugs and says ‘flights full,'” Yamauchi told KITV once she got to Hawaii. She also said she decided not to engage with the flight attendant, remembering United’s altercation with David Dao earlier this year during which the doctor was violently dragged off an overbooked plane.
Yamauchi said her son was forced into several uncomfortable positions throughout the flight: “In the end, very sadly, he was standing up between my knees … What happened to my son was unsafe, uncomfortable and unfair.” The FAA “strongly urges” passengers not to hold their children on their laps during flights as it’s not completely safe in unexpected turbulence.
When the flight landed, Yamauchi spoke to United employees at the gate, who suggested she go to customer service. They, in turn, directed her toward a hotline. When she finally reached someone there, she said she was told she could only be refunded if the rest of her flight plans were cancelled. That would’ve just caused her additional expenses to get home.
United issued a statement saying they would indeed refund her son’s ticket:
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. We deeply apologize 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.
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