Mum forced to hold toddler son on her lap after airline gives away his seat

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This mum was outrageously forced to give up her toddler's seat on an oversold United Airlines flight, despite discomfort and safety risks.

Shirley Yamauchi and her two-year-old son were settled in their seats, all ready for their United Airlines flight to Boston, when a man showed up claiming little Taizo’s seat was his.  

The mum told a flight attendant about her predicament but was given no help. The only thing left to do was to hold her 25-pound toddler on her lap — all through a long, painful three-hour flight.

A full flight

The man was in fact a standby passenger. He showed the mum his ticket, which had the same seat number as her son Taizo’s.

“I told him that I bought both of these tickets and he tells me that he got the ticket on standby,” Shirley told Hawaii News Now. “Then he proceeds to sit in the center.”

United Airlines staff were indifferent to her crisis. The flight attendant she asked help from “shrugged” and “said the flight was full”, Shirley shared with HuffPost.

The mum was left with no choice but to move her tot on her lap. “My hand, my left arm was smashed up against the wall. I lost feeling in my legs and left arm,” she said.

Because this arrangement was so painful for her, her 2-year-old was forced to stand or even crouch on the floor at times.

Image Credit: Shirley Yamauchi/Facebook

Such a seating arrangement is not merely uncomfortable but potentially dangerous. Shirley’s toddler was not secured with a child safety restraint device, or even a seatbelt.

Toddlers can easily fly out of their parents’ arms when turbulence hits, risking concussions from being tossed about the aircraft. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends that parents buy their child an airplane seat and get a child safety restraint system. 

Scanning mistake 

Just a few months ago, United Airlines made headlines when an elderly man, Dr David Dao, was forcibly dragged off an oversold flight. He suffered horrifying injuries, including knocked-out teeth, a broken nose, and a concussion.

Understandably, Shirley feared that her terrified son would see the same thing happen to her if she’d spoken up. “If I were traveling by myself without my child, I would have spoken up a little louder or more forcefully,” she told NBC News.

United Airlines has since given its take on the confusion, claiming that it was the result of a botched scanning. “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… We deeply apologise to Ms Yamauchi and her son for this experience.”

The airline is also offering to refund her son’s USD1000 ticket (around S$1382), plus a complimentary travel voucher. 

For this shaken mum and her tot, it’s clearly a case of too little, too late. “It doesn’t seem right or enough for pain and discomfort,” she said of the compensation. It’s definitely outrageous that this mum had to put herself and her son at risk, all because of system errors and staff apathy to her plight. 

Safety on board

When you’re flying with your young ones, it’s always a good idea to be aware of your airline’s safety guidelines. To give you an idea of what to look out for, here are some key points from Singapore Airlines’ regulations:

1) Child safety seats must be approved

Only approved car-type child safety seats and FAA-approved child harnesses can be used for children aged below 3. Booster seats and harness-type restraints are not allowed.

Other regulations, such as size limitations, also apply.

2) Infants can fly in bassinets

When you book an infant ticket, you can also request for a bassinet on a first-come, first-served basis. 

3) Parent/guardian accompaniment

Children below 18 must fly with a parent or guardian. 

For more helpful things to note when travelling with kids, also read: Tips when you’re flying with children