A mother’s exhausting journey turns into a shocking ordeal when her toddler’s thousand-dollar airplane seat is heartlessly taken away, igniting a battle for justice and passenger safety.
Shirley Yamauchi, a middle school teacher and doting mother, had done nothing out of the ordinary when she purchased a $1,000 seat for her 27-month-old son on a United Airlines flight. Yet, the ordinary took an unexpected and alarming turn when her son’s seat was taken from him after boarding.
United Airlines’ attempt at rectifying the situation fell far short of Shirley’s expectations. The question now remains: did United Airlines truly make amends, or was this a failed case of damage control?
From the sunny islands of Hawaii to bustling Boston, Shirley and her son Taizo were on a long journey with a layover in Houston. Federal regulations mandate that children above 2 years must have a seat of their own, and complying with this, Shirley didn’t hesitate to spend nearly a grand on her son’s ticket.
After a grueling five-hour wait in Houston, an exhausted Shirley settled her son into his seat and herself into hers. Not long after, a flight attendant came over to check on Taizo’s presence. Then, a man stepped forward claiming that the toddler was seated in his place – a seat originally reserved for Taizo, had been passed on to this standby passenger.
Bewildered, Shirley reached out to a flight attendant, only to be met with an indifferent shrug and a curt explanation, “the flight is full.” This was in stark contrast to United’s guidelines which clearly state that children above two years are entitled to their own seat.
The standby passenger, who had reportedly paid a meager $75 for the seat, was among the last few to board the plane. With the flight about to take off, Shirley, a petite woman, had no choice but to cradle her 25-pound toddler for the entire duration of the three-and-a-half-hour journey to Boston.
Throughout the flight, Shirley battled to fasten the seatbelt around both of them, while her son had to awkwardly stand or crouch on the floor when he became too heavy to hold. All this while, the flight attendants turned a blind eye to this glaring issue.
Shirley expressed her disbelief and outrage to NBC News, saying, “He’s a tall child for a toddler. It was unsafe, uncomfortable, and unfair. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.”
Haunted by past incidents on United flights, Shirley hesitated to voice her concerns to another flight attendant. She feared the repercussions she might face for voicing out her plight, especially while traveling with her child. Instead, she chose to confront several United staff members about the incident once the flight had landed.
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“I was told four different things from four agents,” she said, revealing that one of them insinuated she should have been more assertive onboard. United Airlines responded to the incident several days later, labeling it as a simple system mix-up.
Jonathan Guerin, a United Airlines spokesman, stated, “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.” The airline issued an apology to Shirley and her son for the unfortunate experience and promised a refund for Taizo’s ticket along with a travel voucher.
Shirley, however, was far from appeased. She contested the airline’s explanation and was dissatisfied with the compensation offered, leading her to file a lawsuit. “It doesn’t seem right or enough for pain and discomfort,” she said. “United said they would change and I want to see that happen. I don’t want any more passengers possibly in danger,” she argued, hoping her lawsuit will safeguard other passengers from such treatment.
Supporting her, Attorney Michael Green asserted the necessity to stop the airline from jeopardizing lives. “United deserves everything we can do to them. We’ll let the people decide what to do to people that are this greedy and put lives potentially in danger,” Green declared.
Shirley and Green have a valid argument. United Airlines clearly violated federal regulations, as a child older than 2 years old must have their own seat. Furthermore, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) emphasizes that flying with a child in one’s lap is far from safe.
“Your arms aren’t capable of holding your child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence,” the FAA warns. They also strongly recommend that parents use a government-approved child safety restraint system (CRS) or device, saying, “It’s the smart and right thing to do so that everyone in your family arrives safely.”
Consumer Reports echoes this sentiment, cautioning, “Don’t do it. Flying with a baby — no matter how small — in your lap puts him at risk of injury or even death if the plane hits severe turbulence.” They encourage parents to purchase an additional seat for their child’s safety.
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