“How many boobs do you have?”
That was a question asked of a nursing mother while she was waiting to board an American Airlines flight. And she’s angry.
Last weekend, Kelsey Myers was boarding a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago with a carry-on, a personal item, breast milk, and a breast pump. “At the gate, I was stopped by Daniel … who told me I had too many items,” she wrote in a Facebook post directed at American Airlines. “I explained to him my breast pump is a medical device and the small cooler was breast milk. And he still told me I need to check my bag.” Myers made sure to do her homework before heading to the airport so she didn’t run into an issue like this, and she said she had read the airline’s policy online and knew what was allowed.
Myers was right. “Normally your carry-on allowance is one bag, like a roller bag or something like that, and one personal item, which would be like a purse or a laptop bag, and that would be it. That’s what you’re able to carry onboard the aircraft,” American Airlines press representative Leslie Scott tells Yahoo Lifestyle. However, there are exceptions to the rule. “There are exemptions for a couple of different things, and one of those would be a medical device, and we do consider a breast pump a medical device,” Scott says.
Unfortunately, the gate employee, Daniel, hadn’t done his homework, and neither had his supervisor. “He told me to step aside and said he was calling a supervisor,” Myers continued, adding that the supervisor, who was identified as Juliette in the post, “did not even ask me the situation, but instead immediately told me I need to check a bag,” Myers wrote. That’s when things got aggressive. According to Myers, Juliette started yelling at her to check the bag. “In a condescending tone, she screamed in front of about 50 people waiting to board the flight ‘how many boobs do you have.’ I have never felt more harassed, disrespected and humiliated in my life.”
Eventually, Myers gave in and checked her carry-on (not her pump or milk). She said she was “shocked that a supervisor would show such disrespect.”
American Airlines has acknowledged the mistake. “It was a mistake on our part,” Scott says. “I am a former breastfeeding, traveling mom, so I know that it’s already difficult enough to be in that situation, and we have these policies in place to make it easier, not more difficult.” Scott apologized on behalf of the company and promised that the airline would be “reiterating the policy with our team members at every available opportunity so that it doesn’t happen again.”
In an attempt to rectify the situation, Scott says they have reached out to Myers twice this week, apologized to her, and “offered her a goodwill gesture of compensation.”
For Myers, the gesture is not enough. “American Airlines has only offered me a $100 voucher. And the only person who has called to apologize is a call center rep,” Myers tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Myers says she asked to speak to a supervisor “involved in handling the situation at LAX” but was shut down. “I don’t care about the money, but I do care about the individuals being held accountable, which is why I requested to speak with a supervisor at LAX. I want to do what I can to prevent other mothers or individuals with medical issues from having to go through what I went through.”
There is already plenty of stigma associated with breastfeeding, and this incident doesn’t help. In 2001, only 43 percent of U.S. adults believed that women should have the right to breastfeed in public places. Other studies have found that restaurant and shopping center managers would either discourage breastfeeding anywhere in their facilities or suggest that breastfeeding mothers move to secluded areas to breastfeed.
“I think this message and the staff’s behavior puts even more fear in nursing moms who have to travel,” Myers says. “I was already nervous to travel without my baby. I didn’t want to leave him, worried I would forget pump parts, and worried about finding privacy in random places every two hours throughout the weekend to pump. Do I enjoy hiding in random rooms and bathrooms to pump? No, I do not. But I want to do what is best for my baby.”
While she can’t change what happened, Myers is hoping her experience can spark change. “I am glad this issue is being addressed and hope it will result in airline staff being properly trained to know the rules and respect all their customers,” she says.
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