Breastfeeding And Planes

As we approach the holiday season, many of us will be traveling and many by means of public transportation (planes or trains or buses). I have written several articles on breastfeeding and traveling which can be seen here, here and here. Yesterday I was contacted by a mom who was doing just that PlaneRide- traveling with her baby and she was given a hard time by the airline attendant. I wasn’t sure what to do when I first received her message. I don’t normally post about things like this on this blog – it is usually for advice and tips and to share stories, but I have decided to post her note here. I thought that some of you might have some advice to share with her – and that some of you might have had similar experiences and could lend some advice. Before I post the question from my reader, I do want to post a link to great article by Annie of PhD in Parenting – she wrote a fantastic summary of what do if breastfeeding on a plane and what to do if given “unwanted attention” – I highly recommend reading it!

Here is the letter that was sent to me by a reader of this blog. For privacy purposes, I have not mentioned the name of the person submitting it nor the name of the airline that she is referring to. If you would like this information, I will gladly pass along your contact information to her so that she can contact you directly.

To whom this may concern,
I had an unfortunate incident occur on an airline flight this past weekend. My family went to New York for the weekend for a beautiful wedding. My partner, my 6 month old daughter, and I were flying for the first time as a family, and my daughter behaved famously I might add. I cannot say the same for the flight staff however.

As we were descending into NYC, I was nursing my daughter. I was sitting by the window, and my partner was on the aisle. The flight attendant came up to me and asked me to cover up. She actually reached across my partner to help me do so. I stopped her and asked if I was covering myself for her or for my comfort. She replied that it was for the other passengers. I then informed her that it was my right to nurse wherever it was my right to be. She nervously said “ok” and walked away.

You may or may not be aware that this sort of thing happens frequently. There have been women asked to leave places of business. They have been asked to feed their babies in toilet stalls. Women have also been threatened to have the cops called on them if they did not comply to their demands. People have even tried to argue that it is inappropriate for children to see, saying that it will have them bring up questions on sexuality.

I understand that people fall on both sides of this issue, and that the majority of people might agree with her that I should cover up, which I believe is the result of a greater problem. Likewise, I understand that some women are more comfortable covering up. I have no problem with this. I am not necessarily asking women to nurse openly, just as I expect that no one should ask me to nurse more discretely. Regardless of personal opinion, I feel that asking me to cover up is the same as to say, “excuse me, can you chew with your mouth closed, it might disturb other passengers.” It is of the same absurdity in my mind.

We see breasts everywhere, all over magazines, TV, movies, etc. We are exposed to them all of the time, and we find it acceptable as long as they are commodities. In other words, we can expose almost all of our breasts, as much as is exposed when I breastfeed my baby, as long as it is about being sexual. Yet breastfeeding is viewed as obscene or gross. I am baffled by how backwards this is.

I called the airline today to file a complaint in hopes that some sort of action would be taken. The woman simply told me that they would take it into consideration and that I may or may not hear back from them. She also refused to let me talk to anyone above her, saying that “no one above me talks on the phone.” Is this a joke? How does one get a job like this? She said that I could write a letter, and I intend to. I do not know that anything will ever come of it, but I feel compelled to tell my story.

When doing research I actually found this on the web… It is in reference to breastfeeding law. I should also state that in Indiana, there are no laws protecting a woman either way in regard to breastfeeding. It is my right to breastfeed wherever I am permitted to be, but if someone harasses me for it, there is no legal action I can take against them…

“…(In Vermont) Gillette, a mother from New Mexico, was removed from a Freedom Airlines flight, while it was still on the ground in Vermont, for refusing a flight attendant’s demand that she cover herself while breastfeeding her child. Without the law, she might have been left only with the statement of an airline spokesperson that “The Air Line fully supports a mother’s right to breast-feed on board our aircraft, and we were very disappointed in the decision to move Ms. Gillette from the flight.”

Gillette and her family were not only humiliated by an airline employee, but had to wait until the next day for a new flight. Other than a few public words, the airlines have offered her nothing, and in the absence of a court or commission ruling, there are no guarantees that an employee will not behave the same way in the future….”

So, it seems that I am not the first mother that has been told how I can or cannot breastfeed my child on an airline flight. I realize that my story is not as extreme (perhaps because we were in the air and to kick me off would have been asking me to jump from the plane), yet I feel that it breeds the same results. If I am allowed to nurse my baby wherever I please or need to for that matter, should I not be able to do it how I choose? How is it that women can expose all of their breasts except for their nipple and no one asks them to cover up? Yet my baby eating is somehow taboo?

Also, I need to say that after this experience on Friday I have found myself self-conscious breastfeeding in public, and I am saddened that it has had this affect on me. I will work through it, however. I will continue to proudly feed my baby in the way that we were designed to, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking care of her needs publicly.

I do not know what my expectation is in all of this yet, but I do know that it feels like a violation of my human rights, and I hope to convey that. I know that many people will not agree with me, I just ask you to think about it objectively.

And if you are interested, here is another article that I found pertinent.

Thank you for listening, and please feel free to pass this on and tell my story. I am one of many, unfortunately.

Do you have advice for this mom? Have you had a similar experience when flying on a plane? If so, please leave a comment here and share your concerns, your advice and your experiences. Breastfeeding moms should never be made to feel like what they are doing is shameful. Let’s help this mom recover from this awful experience.

16 comments to Breastfeeding And Planes

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Judy Masucci and Judy Masucci, Rachael Bender . Rachael Bender said: RT @MommyNews: Just posted an article abt a mom harassed for breastfeeding her baby on a plane: http://bit.ly/5aKcTF, pls stop by to read [...]

  • i feel terrible for her and this. although i do choose to cover up a bit in public, i agree that it shouldn’t matter if someone doesn’t. i love her comparison of the way some women choose to dress. most people wouldn’t be offended at all & definitely wouldn’t walk over and pull her shirt up!

    while recently in Africa, i breastfed some of the orphaned babies there. while i didn’t cover up with a blanket, i was discreet about it. all the women there thought i was nuts for covering at all. and while i know that technically it is my “right” here, i wished it were more accepted.

    flying home from there, the woman next to me had to nurse several times on the long international flight. i hated the looks she received, but was so proud that she continued to do it without covering up anyway!
    .-= ~love´s last blog ..little citizens =-.

  • Agh, I can’t believe that this is still an issue with flight attendants after all the hoopla over Emily Gillette! I (naively, apparently) figured that every airline would sit down with every employee and lay down the law that breastfeeding is a right and to inform other passengers of that right if there’s any in-air grumbling. What gets me in this case & in Gillette’s is that the discomfort appears to have been solely that of the flight attendant’s, not of any passengers. I mean, how easy is it to see into those narrow seats unless you’re sitting right next to or right across from someone? And, hey, if you don’t want to watch someone breastfeed, there’s this little thing they invented called…looking away. Sorry for ranting, but this kind of thing just baffles and infuriates me.
    .-= Lauren @ Hobo Mama´s last blog ..A call to persist in babywearing =-.

  • Amy

    I, for one, would love to know the airline because the next time I travel, I’d be happy to drop them a line letting them know that I’m choosing another airline for the comfort of my infant.

  • That flight attendant needs to be educated. A mother who breastfeeds during a take-off or descent can’t be rare.

  • I flew with my son at least a dozen times when he was an infant and we always nursed on take-off and landing and often throughout the flight as well. I have even pumped on a plane – in my seat (while covered with a blanket) and I was fortunate to never have anyone say anything negative to me. I got MANY MANY comments about what a good baby my son was during the flight – this was, of course, because he was breastfeeding – so crying and fussiness were not a problem. It is awful that some people make mom’s feel bad by inappropriately asking them to cover up or even worse, asking them to stop nursing. While the flight attendant in this case backed down when the mom stood up for herself, many others are not as fortunate. Our society still has a long way to go and it is very saddening to realize that. — Judy

  • Elita

    AGAIN? Seriously? I would encourage any mother that this happens to contact the airline immediately. Like Lauren said, this sounds like a silly rogue employee who has her own issues. This year, all I want for Hanukkah is to not hear about any moms being harassed on airplanes. Thank you and Amen.

  • While she was rightly upset by it, it sounds like this mama knows just what she ought to be doing and is ready to defend her rights. Good for her! I’m not sure why it is that planes and travel seem to be hotspot for mistreatment of breastfeeding mothers – maybe because it’s a situation where poorly trained staff have frequent encounters in inflexible circumstances with breastfeeding families.

    It’s stunning to me that this is still an issue: there’s not a lot of nuance to the right stance on this. Mothers may breastfeed their babies – period. Others may not like it or feel that there is too much skin exposed or the baby is too old or whatever. Not mom’s problem – that is the staff’s problem. Let the mother’s take care of their babies and you take care of the customer service.

    Anyway, good job Mom! Keep it up.

  • What a shame! Breastfeeding mothers should never be made to feel embarrassed about such a natural thing. It’s just so baffling to me that people react this way. When will breastfeeding ever be looked at as a natural, normal thing? So sad and so infuriating!
    .-= Kristi´s last blog ..And Off To Dream Land He Goes =-.

  • On the two occasions I’ve flown with my son, I had nothing but smiles and discreet encouragement from the flight staff – thank god! I nursed my son, uncovered, during takeoff, landing, and in-between when necessary. We even had a comment from our seat-mate about what a good baby he was – he was six months old at the time.

    Now, though I’m thankful that we had this experience, I do wonder whether the fact that we flew in Canada, on a Canadian airline, made the difference. (Westjet – they’ve smartened up since their *very* public PR incident a few years back)
    I still find it hard to believe that BF mothers are being shamed or outright harassed ANYWHERE for feeding their children the way they choose to.
    .-= Jenn´s last blog ..A Welcome and a Whoops! =-.

  • [...] to share her story with as many people as possible. The same letter has already been posted on the Mommy News Blog, but I decided to print it here too. I also have a different slant on this. I have left out the name [...]

  • I have left a comment over at Breastfeeding Moms Unite as well but want to encourage people to actually *read* the article of mine that the mom links to in her post above. Delta did not suffer at all economically as a result of tossing Emily Gillette and her family off of a plane for refusing to cover her child’s head with a blanket. Recently Gillette has filed a new civil action against Delta but we are still a long way from seeing Delta compensate her or change its policies.

    Kinda of an aside but I can’t help myself – Indiana actually has both a public breastfeeding law and a workplace pumping law. Neither is particularly strong but they *are* there. Not relevant to this mom’s situation since her plane was landing in New York but she brought up Indiana so I had to correct her. ;)

    As an activist, I guess I am surprised that people are surprised at this mom’s story and I wonder whether we might want to be careful in equating this situation with one in which a mother was actually forced to do or not do something. Does the situation described above really reflect something more than ignorance and rudeness on the part of the flight attendant?
    .-= Jake Aryeh Marcus´s last blog ..A Podcast with Me from the 2007 La Leche League International Conference – Still Timely, I Promise =-.

  • I would agree with Jake. I think this is an unfortunate situation and one that demonstrates the ongoing lack of acceptance of breastfeeding in society. However, in terms of actions, I think what is appropriate is very different when talking about being kicked off a plane versus being asked (but not even forced) to cover up.

    In a situation like this, I would certainly contact the airline afterward to complain and encourage them to educate their employees about the rights of a breastfeeding mother. However, I wouldn’t compare it to what Emily Gillette went through.
    .-= Annie @ PhD in Parenting´s last blog ..IComLeavWe: Day 3 =-.

  • [...] Mommy News Blog: Breastfeeding and Planes [...]

  • This is disappointing, to say the least!

    I’ve only flown twice with a breastfeeding baby (both times within Australia, on Virgin planes) and I must say, the airline staff were excellent. When I flew with my firstborn (she was 13 months old at the time), the attendant came along and brought me a bottle of water (unasked, unpaid for) and smiled saying, “It can be thirsty work, I know!” The second time, I was flying with my 3-month-old and a 2-year-old toddler. As I latched the baby on, the attendant came over to ask me if I’d like an extra pillow to support the baby’s head (I didn’t need it, but was happy to be asked) and then sat down on the vacant seat opposite and proceeded to read stories to my 2-year-old for 10 minutes while baby started her feed in peace. Can’t fault that, I reckon!

    We’re flying again next Feb and I’ll once again have a breastfeeding bub (1 year old) + a 6 and 4 year old, and I wouldn’t even consider flying with anyone but Virgin.
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Introducing Poky =-.

  • [...] Breastfeeding & Planes – one moms story that is all too familiar, includes links to helpful articles by Judy Masucci [...]

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