United under fire for giving away a child’s $1000 seat even though he was too old to sit on his mother’s lap

United Airlines has apologised after reselling a toddler’s seat to a standby passenger on a flight from Houston to Boston late last week.

As a result of the incident, Shirley Yamauchi, the child’s mother, was forced to hold the toddler in her lap for the duration of the nearly four-hour-long flight.

Forcing the 27-month-old toddler to sit on his mother’s lap may have violated United’s own policies regarding children. According to the airline’s travel policies, children under the age of two may be allowed to travel on their parent’s lap. However, Yamauchi’s son was over that age limit.

United Airlines was not immediately available for comment regarding the age limit. 

While there isn’t a federally mandated age limit on lap children, the Federal Aviation Administration advises against children flying in their parents’ laps regardless of age. Instead, the agency suggests parents purchase seats for their children and use approved safety seats or restraint devices on board flights. 

“Your arms aren’t capable of holding your child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence,” The FAA wrote on its website. “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly urges you to secure your child in a child safety restraint system or device for the duration of your flight. It’s the smart and right thing to do so that everyone in your family arrives safely at your destination.”

Yamauchi, a middle school teacher from Hawaii, told ABC affiliate KITV that she declined to speak up during the flight out of fear that it could cause a scene.

“I’m scared. I’m worried. I’m travelling with an infant. I didn’t want to get hurt. I didn’t want either of us to get hurt,” she told KITV. “I had him in all these contorted sleeping positions. In the end, very sadly, he was standing up between my knees.”

Yamauchi told Hawaii News Now that she paid nearly $US1,000 for her son’s seat.

In response, the airline has refunded both the mother’s and the toddler’s tickets from Hawaii to Boston. 

In a statement to Business Insider, United Airlines wrote:

“We deeply apologise to Ms. Yamauchi and her son for this experience. We are refunding their tickets and providing compensation as a goodwill gesture. We are also working with our employees to prevent this from happening again.”

A United spokesperson told the Washington Post that the toddler’s boarding pass had been improperly scanned — allowing the computer to release the seat to a standby passenger.