Another Sad Story Of Nursing Mom vs. Airline

It was just a few months ago when United made a nursing mother pump her breast milk in a pet relief area.  And, that wasn’t the only story in the last few months, just the most notable.

The current head slapping moment is occupied by Delta, where multiple employees couldn’t figure out the correct policy on a mother bringing breast milk on a flight.  The short version of the story goes like this:

The mom had been traveling away from her family for a few weeks and had stored up a bunch of breast milk.  For those without kids, breast milk is the equivalent of gold to a nursing mother.  I can recall my wife being brought to tears a time or two when she realized that she had forgotten to freeze packs of milk.  Nursing is hard, and no man will ever understand quite how difficult it is (or, if they did we’d have mandatory 12 months of paternity leave).

Anyways, she called the airline to figure out how to get all this breast milk home.  The airline instructed her to pack it in dry ice and label it in a specific fashion.  So, she spent the time to find dry ice, buy dry ice and labeling materials, and haul all that with the breast milk to the airport, ready to send her milk on its way home.

Upon arriving at the airport, none of the Delta employees there to help her had any idea what the correct policy was and only made the situation worse.

Thankfully, in her panic she approached a police officer in the airport that advised her she was able to bring the breast milk through security and take it on the plane.  The TSA’s website is actually fairly straight-forward on this point (other than their typo):

Formula, breast milk and juice in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters are allowed in carry-on baggage and do need to not fit within a quart-sized bag. Separate formula, breast milk and juice from other liquids, gels and aerosols limited to 3.4 ounces.

Ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs and other accessories required to cool formula, breast milk and juice are allowed in carry-on. If these accesories are partially frozen or slushy, they are subject to the same screening as described above.

I’m not 100% sure if the dry ice she bought would have made it through security, but she definitely could have grabbed some ice from a restaurant on the other side of security to aid her plight.

Now, I’m not looking to defend Delta here, but there is another side to the story.  Whenever you’re traveling (especially as a parent), your best advocate is yourself.  While we know most of the details, it’s unclear if the mom asked how to check a cooler of breast milk as a checked bag or just asked they could bring it on the plane.  The mom could have researched the TSA restrictions on her own as opposed to just relying on what Delta told her.  I’m pretty sure she will now.

None of that excuses the actions (on inaction) of Delta’s employees here.  I get that it can be tough for every employee to understand every potential situation a customer can present.  But, if the narrative is correct, more than one employee helped her, which means none of them really knew the policy.  And, depending on how she framed the question to the phone agent she spoke with, she may have gotten bad information there as well.

As a parent, I’m well aware of the TSA policy here, but I don’t think the medicine and infant liquids policy is what I would consider trivial.  Someone really should have been able to accurately communicate this to her.

According to the article, Delta has reached out with a $150 travel voucher for this customer.  It sounds like she spent about half that amount tracking down the dry ice that she was instructed to get (and ultimately had to throw away).  $150 seems a bit light in an absolute sense considering what she went through but compensation has been ramped down quite a bit as planes have filled up.

I hate seeing stories like this.  There were a number of ways this could have been prevented.  Working moms have enough stress dealing with a job while raising a child.  Folding in travel complicates things even more.  As the article and this mom both mention, I hope that the visibility this story is getting leads the airlines to better education for their employees.  What should have been an easy solution for this passenger turned into a stressful travel experience.

11 Comments

  1. It’s the apathy and nobody wanting to do their job. I hate it when employees who don’t know a policy make up their own (that would be the dried ice) instead of seeking help from someone who knows. For what it’s worth, we usually get to the airport with plenty of time (I usually allow for an extra hour now) and a cooler with the cold food and milk on regular ice and I just use Starbucks or another restaurant to fill up airside and give the restaurant person helping fill it up for us a couple of bucks, but all TSA and airport employees we have dealt with usually are just happy to help so we have been lucky. At least we are not pumping anymore and that makes it so much easier!

    1. FTG, agree on the apathy. We train our employees to use resources available to them when they don’t have an answer to a question. We maintain a manager help line that they can use to get questions answered. Glad to hear you’re past the point of pumping! We’re glad to be past that point as well.

  2. The Delta incident seems to be a legitimate concern.

    The United incident not so much. Reading the linked source article, it appears the woman wanted free lounge access based on her status as a nursing mother. When she learned she needed to pay for a day pass she got pissy and went to the media. Sorry, no sympathy here. United never made her pump in a pet relief area … article says she chose different public area to pump. Women like her give nursing moms a bad image.

    1. Segments, I agree that the woman in the United incident isn’t entitled to a lounge pass. But, in today’s day and age, it can’t really be seen as a reasonable solution for an employee to suggest somewhere where pets take a leak. Given that Dulles is a large airport, it’s not unreasonable for them to have a family restroom with a plug or other such area for nursing moms to use.

      1. Agree that suggesting the pet rest area as a place to pump is odd at best. Since we only have her side of the story I won’t even speculate how that idea came into play. But saying “United made a nursing mother pump her breast milk in a pet relief area” is both inaccurate and pure click bait.

        Agree that Dulles should have a reasonable option for nursing moms. If the only options at Dulles are private lounges or public spaces, then it is between the individual and airport management. I don’t connect thru Dulles so I can’t speak to what options are actually available at that airport. I support moms nursing anywhere, and no one denied her the right to pump. I’m guessing she ended up pumping in the gate area. If she doesn’t feel that is adequate than take it up with airport management. This ding should be against the airport, not the airline. Airport management should have better options, and if they do, then better advertise the preferred lactation spaces.

        Special needs passenger need to research options before flying. If she knew she would have to pump during her connection at Dulles than why not determine her options in advance? Poor planning and unwillingness to pay for a desired level of privacy by the passenger seem to be the root cause.

        1. Segments, maybe it’s just a semantic disagreement, but the article clearly indicates that United gave her one choice to pump, in a pet relief area. The mom chose a more public place to pump. I guess you could argue that technically United didn’t FORCE her to pump in a pet relief area. They just told her it was the only choice they could offer. I don’t view that as anywhere near clickbait, but I’m fine disagreeing on that point.

          I did mention in my article that the airport does share some of the blame here. But, considering there were other private areas that United has oversight on very near to the pet relief area, I think it’s incumbent on United to make sure their employees are aware of those options for nursing moms.

          I think passengers with special needs are always the best advocates for themselves, but I don’t think that excuses airline personnel for being ill-informed and/or insensitive.

  3. They should have given her a free first class ticket to any beach of her choice with a nanny included! That’s how I would have wanted to have been compensated haha!!!

  4. It seems to me – if airlines are willing to ship frozen fish from Cabo or anywhere else to the states with ice paks and/or dry ice, then a nursing mother should be able to check a cooler of ice packed breast milk. However, some of the blame, as you say, falls on her for not researching enough. Delta owes her far more than $150 voucher.

Leave a Reply