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United apologises after toddler forced to give up seat

A passenger has received an apology from United Airlines after having to sit with her toddler on her lap for more than three hours after the airline gave her child’s seat away to a standby customer.

Shirley Yamauchi, 27, had bought a $1,000 ticket for her son Taizo for the flight from Houston to Boston on June 29, the final leg of an 18-hour journey from Hawaii.

They were in their seats waiting for take-off when a man arrived, saying Taizo was in his seat.

“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 centre,”  Yamauchi told HAwaii News Now.

She said she told a flight attendant, who shrugged and said the flight was full before walking 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.

She also learned that the man had paid just $75 for his ticket.

Yamauchi said she did not want to cause more of a fuss at the time in case she got into trouble.

“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.

She was referring to the incident in April in which an elderly passenger was dragged by force off an overbooked United US domestic flight after he refused to leave.

When she complained at Boston, Yamauchi was told to call a hotline.

When she asked for a refund, she was informed that the airline would need to cancel her return trip to Hawaii in order to do so, according to local reports.

A spokesman for United, reported by the Daily Telegraph, said the mistake occurred because Taizo’s boarding pass was inaccurately scanned at the gate so the airline’s system showed him as not checked in. His seat was consequently released to a standby passenger.

“We deeply apologise to Ms. Yamauchi and her son for this experience,” the carrier said.

“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.”

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