A mother traveling with her 2-year-old son from Houston to Boston last week says United Airlines gave away her son's seat to a standby passenger even though she paid nearly $1,000 for the seat.
The flight was the last leg of an 18-hour trip from Hawaii that Shirley Yamauchi had been on with her son, Taizo. Yamauchi told reporters she was approached by a man on the plane who said Taizo was in his seat, which had been given to him as a standby passenger.
Yamauchi asked a flight attendant for help but says she was blown off.
"She gave me a short answer saying that the flight was full and she shrugged and she walked away," she said, according to CBS News.
She said she thought about protesting further but was scared to cause a problem because of United Airlines' recent history.
"I thought about Dr. [David] Dao and his incident with United, having his teeth knocked out and being dragged down the aisle," Yamauchi said. "And I didn't want that to happen to me."
Not wanting to share Dao's fate, Yamauchi sat her 25-pound son on her lap for the duration of the flight, resulting in several mishaps.
"I was concerned for his safety," she said. "I had to attempt to put his seat belt over him for the two of us, and it was very difficult.… He's so big, I couldn't put down the folding table. I put the drinks on my armrest. I knocked down the drinks with my elbow."
Though she complained once she arrived in Boston, Yamuchi says the airlines didn't apologize until five days later, only after her husband posted pictures on social media detailing the incident. United said Taizo's boarding pass was incorrectly scanned and offered the family a refund.
"We deeply apologize to Ms. Yamauchi and her son for this experience. We are refunding her son's ticket and providing a travel voucher," the airline said in a statement.
The Federal Aviation Administration strongly encourages parents to keep children in their own seat or child restraint system, not in an adult's lap.
"Your arms aren't capable of holding your child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence," the FAA website states.
United Airlines regulations also prohibit children over the age of 2 from sitting on an adult's lap.