Most major airlines allow children under the age of 2 to fly free as lap children, resting on an adult’s lap for the duration of the flight. But you’ll typically be charged full fare for a child who is 2 years old and up.

As for middle school teacher Shirley Yamauchi was passing through Houston on her way from Hawaii to Boston with her 27-month-old son Taizo. Taizo’s ticket cost Shirley approximately $1000 because federal law mandates that every child over the age of two have their own seat.

An exhausted Shirley put Taizo in his seat and took her own after spending more than five hours waiting to board in Houston. She claimed that shortly after, a flight attendant arrived to check on Taizo’s status. The seat Shirley had purchased for Taizo was then given to a standby passenger, who informed Shirley that the young child was now in his seat.

Shirley notified a flight attendant because she was confused, but according to Shirley, “She shrugged and said the flight is full.”

Despite the fact that according to United’s own policies, “Once infants turn two years old, they are required to have a purchased ticket and occupy a seat.”

As the flight was about to depart, the standby passenger, who later told Shirley he only paid $75 for the seat and was one of the last people to board. For the three-and-a-half-hour flight from Houston to Boston, Shirley who was only 5’2″ had no choice, but to hold the toddler in her lap.


The mother claimed that she struggled to put her seatbelt over both her and her 25-pound son and ended up standing and crouching in the aisle when she could no longer bear her son’s weight on top of her lap.

“He’s a tall child for a toddler. He comes up to my belly button. It was a three and a half hours flight. It was unsafe, uncomfortable, and unfair, I couldn’t believe it was happening to me,” she told NBC News.

Shirley waited until the flight landed to inform multiple United staff members about what happened, instead of alerting another attendant. But due to previous problems on United flights, Shirley worried about what might happen to her while she was traveling with her child if she caused an issue.

She said that someone had advised her to speak up more while she was on board. Days later, United Airlines released a statement explaining that everything was just a system error. “I was told four different things from four agents,” she said.

Shirley Yamauchi

Jonathan Guerin, a representative for United Airlines, expressed regret for the incident to Shirley Yamauchi and her son, he said, “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 assured Shirley she would receive a travel voucher in addition to a refund for her son’s ticket. Shirley wasn’t content, though. She argued against the airline’s justification for the blunder. “I saw them zap both tickets. There was no issue, no problem. They let us through.” The Hawaiian teacher decided to file a lawsuit because she too disagrees with the payout.

Shirley Yamauchi

Hawaii News Now quoted Shirley as adding that she hoped her legal action would help shield other passengers from this sort of harassment, she said, “It doesn’t seem right or enough for pain and discomfort. United said they would change and I want to see that happen. I don’t want any more passengers possibly in danger.”

“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,” Attorney Michael Green who agrees that the airline needs to be stopped from putting lives at risk, said.

Shirley Yamauchi

Green and Shirley are correct. Federal regulations were broken by United Airlines. A seat of their own is required for children older than 2 years old. Furthermore, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is very clear that it is unsafe to fly while holding a child in your lap.

“Your arms aren’t capable of holding your child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence,” The FAA declares.

“It’s the smart and right thing to do so that everyone in your family arrives safely,” the FAA even goes a step further, admonishing parents to buckle their youngster into a CRS or other device that has been certified by the authorities.

Consumer Reports cautions, advising parents to purchase the extra seat, saying, “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.”

Watch the videos below for more details:

Sources: TapHaps, Consumer Reports, Federal Aviation Administration,  Hawaii News NowNBC News

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