United Airlines has been forced to apologise for another gaffe after its staff put a passenger on board a plane going in the wrong direction resulting in the woman ending up thousands of miles from her home.

Lucie Bahetoukilae, from Paris, was trying to fly home to France from Newark Airport, New Jersey, but at the last minute the gate number was changed.

An agent at the gate scanned Bahetoukilae's ticket, which clearly stated Charles de Gaulle airport, but she was allowed to board the wrong aircraft.

Once on the plane she realised someone was in her allocated seat and informed a stewardess, who directed her to sit elsewhere.

Bahetoukilae, who does not speak English, was then flown to San Francisco, leaving her 5,500 miles (8,800km) from home. Bahetoukilae had to wait 11 hours before being put on a flight home. She spent a total of 28 hours in transit.

Bahetoukilae's niece, Diane Miantsoko, told ABC one of the most concerning issues was that security seemed to be lax. "With everything going on ... people have to be more careful," she said.

"They didn't pay attention. My aunt could have been anyone. She could have been a terrorist and killed people on that flight and they didn't know, they didn't catch it."

United Airlines said in a statement to Business Insider: "We deeply apologize to Ms. Bahetoukilae for this unacceptable experience. When she arrived in San Francisco we ensured she got on the next flight to Paris and refunded her ticket.

"Our customer care team has reached out to her directly to ensure we make this right. We are also working with our team in Newark to prevent this from happening again."

United has been hit by a series of public relations disasters recently. Dr David Dao, 69, was forcibly removed from a flight which was overbooked. When footage of the incident came to light, CEO Oscar Munoz at first defended the actions of his crew and suggested Dao was being aggressive. Munoz later apologised.

Worse was to come for the airline when a giant rabbit being transported from London to the US was found dead on arrival at Chicago O'Hare. The three-foot rabbit, Simon, died in the hold during the flight.

United spokesman, Charles Hobart, told The Guardian that the airline had reached a resolution with breeder Annette Edwards. Des Moines area businessmen who bought Simon had planned to enter him at the Iowa State Fair to win a prize for the biggest rabbit, then display him at later events to raise money for the fair.