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.