A mother traveling on United Airlines to Boston was forced to hold her two year old on her lap even after purchasing a ticket for him when his seat was given away to a standby passenger.
In the United States, children aged 0-2 are permitted to sit on the lap of their parent or guardian rather than purchase their own seat. But the day the baby turns two is the day that baby must have a separate seat. Shirley Yamauchi was on a trip from Honolulu to Boston via Houston on United and purchased a separate ticket for her two-year-old son.
The Honolulu to Houston flight was fine and everything seemed to be okay after boarding the Houston to Boston flight as well. But toward the end of the boarding process, another passenger showed up and plopped himself down in the middle seat purchased for Yamauchi’s son.
The man claimed to be a standby passenger and had been given the seat by a gate agent. Yamauchi flagged down a FA, but claims the FA dismissed her, shrugging and commenting that the flight was full.
Remembering the Dao incident, Yamauchi (who is of Asian heritage) claims she was too fearful to assert her rights and thus remained silent.
I started remembering all those incidents with United on the news. The violence. Teeth getting knocked out. I’m Asian. I’m scared and I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t want those things to happen to me.
She did complain after the flight and United has now admitted fault and provided compensation. United issued the following statement–
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.
Honest Mistake or Not?
I would hope (and tend to believe) this was an honest mistake, but there is this one thing. Interestingly, she called customer service directly after the flight was told that a refund could not be given to her because it would cancel the return segments. But if a gate agent had neglected to scan her son’s boarding pass in Houston, the whole itinerary would have cancelled out automatically.
If the itinerary did not cancel, it means her son’s ticket was somehow scanned. Then again, I’m not sure how standby passenger could be double-booked into a seat already accounted for. This is just my speculation…
United refunded the ticket and provided a travel voucher (undisclosed amount).
I place the majority of blame on the onboard flight attendant. Sure, we could scold Yamauchi for not being more assertive, but I think that would be deeply unfair: her fears in light of the Dao incident were reasonable. The FA should not have just ignored Yamauchi. Instead, she should have taken the time to fully understand her concern then investigate. The standby passenger should have been removed.
top image: Katie Haugland Bowen / Flickr