Shirley Yamauchi, a Hawaiian teacher, did everything right; she bought her tickets—one for her and one for her 27-month-old—from Hawaii to Boston months in advance, and she arrived at the airport more than two hours ahead of time. But she made one mistake; she booked those tickets with United.
On the second leg of her trip, her son, Taizo, was sitting in his seat when a man came up and told her that United had sold him the seat, and he insisted on taking Taizo’s seat. Taizo’s seat cost nearly $1,000—the same as his mom’s ticket—but United didn’t care. “The flight attendant came by, shrugs, and says, ‘flight’s full,’” Yamauchi told KITV.
A spokesman for United later told The Washington Post that staff at the gate failed to scan Taizo’s boarding pass, so the toddler wasn’t logged into the system. Yamauchi says that a flight attendant came by to make sure he was present on the flight, but they still went ahead and sold it to a standby passenger.
She also told Hawaii News Now that she considered protesting, but given United’s violent past, she was too scared to make a scene. “I started remembering all those incidents with United on the news. The violence. Teeth being knocked out,” she said.
Since she was afraid of being dragged out of the plane like David Dao, she kept her mouth shut and held her son on her lap for the entire 3-and-a-half-hour flight.
“He’s 25 pounds; he’s half my height,” shares Yamauchi, whose arm went numb after being smashed between the plane wall and her son for the majority of flight.
Not only was this incredibly uncomfortable for little Taizo’s mom, but it was unsafe for him. The Washington Post notes that holding him in her lap instead of having him buckled into his own seat is against the safety advice of the Federal Aviation Administration. And it’s also against the policy on United’s own website, which reads, “Once infants turn two years old, they are required to have a purchased ticket and occupy a seat.”
The Post reports that a United spokesman says they will compensate Yamauchi “as a goodwill gesture,” but there was no word on why flight attendants were able to force the mother to violate F.A.A. regulation and endanger her child’s life.