What Do You Think: Should Breastfeeding Moms Be Required to Cover Up on Planes?

Photo: AU Women's Center Photo: AU Women's Center

Roughly two weeks ago, a mother, on-board an American Airlines flight and nursing her son, was asked to cover up by her displeased flight attendant. The flight attendant suggested that the mama put a blanket over her baby (for the sole reason that were “kids on this flight”) while nursing, so as not to disturb fellow flyers. Since the July 21 incident, the story has piqued Internet interest. Women, mothers, fathers and men have reacted with outrage, shock, surprise, disappointment at what the mother, who was trying to feed (and soothe) her 5-month-old endured thousands of miles high in the sky.

Her friend, Hannah, disgruntled, upset and totally alarmed by the story, shared her friend’s tale on Facebook, posting a photo of the letter that American Airlines sent the nursing mom following the incident. On her personal Facebook, Hannah shared,

“While breastfeeding during her 5-hour flight, my dear friend, who would like to remain anonymous, was treated poorly by an American Airlines flight attendant. My friend reached out to customer service and in response American Airlines outlined their policy requiring nursing mothers to “cover-up.” The federal government and nearly every state have laws in place that protect women nursing in public. Are the legal rights of breastfeeding infants really lost when the plane leaves the ground?
-Hannah

Here is what the breastfeeding mom (who has chosen to remain nameless) said in regard to the whole ordeal,

On July 21, 2013 my husband and I were travelling home with our 5 month-old son on an American Airlines flight. After lift-off, I allowed our son to begin nursing as it helps his ears not hurt and prevents him from crying for the rest of the flight. I was sitting in the window seat, my husband was sitting in the center seat, and our son’s head was toward the window so no one could really see what was going on. There was a girl about ten or twelve years old sitting in the aisle seat next to my husband. She had her headphones on and was chatting with her friends in surrounding seats – my son’s eating did not seem to be bothering her. A few minutes after my son started nursing, a stewardess walked by our row, shook her head at me, and shot me a very displeased look. I told my husband, and we both agreed that she probably wouldn’t go any further, since I was being discreet and no one else seemed bothered.

A few minutes later, the same stewardess returned to our row, leaned over the girl in the aisle seat, and told me (after a bit of hesitation as she couldn’t find her words) that I needed to put a blanket over my son “because there are kids on this flight.” My husband promptly responded that there was no problem with what I was doing and that we preferred to not use a blanket. The stewardess left our row and walked to the back of the plane. A few minutes later, she returned again and told the young lady in the aisle seat, “I’m going to move you back here because you’re probably really uncomfortable.” By that time, our my son was asleep and the girl had yet to take notice in my nursing of him.

For the rest of the flight, that stewardess never offered us drinks and avoided looking at us, but my son happily nursed and slept. We had passengers all around us saying how thankful they were that our son was sleeping, commenting ‘He’s the best baby on the plane!’

I filed a complaint on the American Airlines website describing the employee’s inappropriate, harassment-style behavior, saying that it made me hesitant to fly with American Airlines again. On August 3, 2013, I received the attached letter in response – Not an apology and further reason to believe that harassment is not uncommon for breastfeeding mothers flying with American Airlines.”

This is the letter she received from American Airlines:

The highlighted paragraph reads, “To offer some clarity, we certainly do allow for the breast-feeding of infants on our flights. However, because of the offense that may be taken by others with the close confines of commercial aircraft, we simply as that breast-feeding be done with certain discretion and a sense of modesty. We believe it is reasonable to ask that the mother cover-up in an appropriate manner during the feeding, and by your account it appears that you were sensitive to this need.”

This mom was trying to keep her son occupied, distracted and calm (she even says, “I allowed our son to begin nursing as it helps his ears not hurt and prevents him from crying for the rest of the flight.”). She was trying to avoid the with stares, sighs and rolling eyes that come with flying commercially with a baby but instead, had to deal with the ill-advised comments her flight attendant made because she was trying to be considerate of the rest of the passengers on board.

Want to be heard? August 15 in our Public Display of Breastfeeding Day!

Do you see any problem with this? Was the flight attendant or the nursing mama in the wrong here?

Plus, more from The Bump:

Tired of the Bias Against Breastfeeding Moms? Join the Boob-olution!

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Banished to the Bathroom to Breastfeed – Can You Relate?