A Hawaii teacher says she was forced to hold her 27-month-old son on her lap for three and a half hours after United Airlines gave the toddler's seat to a standby passenger.
Shirley Yamauchi says she bought the airline tickets for a teacher conference in Boston three months ago. Because children over the age of 2 are required to have their own seat, she purchased a ticket for her son, Taizo -- paying almost $1,000 each ticket.
The Kapolei Middle School teacher says they were sitting on the plane in Houston when a flight attendant came to check if Taizo was present.
Yamauchi said her son was clearly in his seat, but another passenger still showed up, claiming the seat was his.
"I told him that I bought both of these tickets and he tells me that he got the ticket on standby. Then he proceeds to sit in the center," she said.
She says she told the flight attendant about the problem, but the woman just shrugged, said the flight was full, and walked away.
"I had to move my son onto my lap. He's 25 pounds. He's half my height. I was very uncomfortable. My hand, my left arm was smashed up against the wall. I lost feeling in my legs and left arm," she said.
Yamauchi said she wanted to speak up, but was afraid of retaliation.
"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 said.
Five days after the flight, the airline is finally issuing an apology.
A spokesman for United says because gate agents inaccurately scanned Taizo's boarding pass, their system showed him as not checked in, so his seat was released to another passenger.
The company said, "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."
Yamauchi says the incident makes her nervous about flying United again.
"I had bought both of these tickets way in advance. We did the two hour check-in time before boarding. I had my receipts. I had my boarding pass. Yet this happened," Yamauchi said.