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Nightmare experience on airplane - breastfeeding

Posted Thu February 22, 2007 12:35 pm, by Emily T. written to AirTran Airways

Write a Letter to this Company

On December 5, 2006 I was on an AirTran flight 402 from Baltimore to Atlanta, an approximate 1 hour, 30 minutes. I sat in row 10F in the middle seat.

I boarded the plane, got settled in my seat (I had a whole row to myself) and played with my 8 month old daughter for a bit. When most of the people had boarded, and we were getting ready to go, I took out my nursing cover (one that I made which has a fabric strap behind my neck and a rigid neckline so it allows me to see her) and started to breastfeed her beneath it. I'm not wholly comfortable nursing in public in such a confined space with people around, so I use my cover all the time to help me be discreet, plus it helps keep Ella focused. Not even to mention the recent press about the lady who got kicked off a Delta/Freedom Air plane for breastfeeding.

A few minutes before takeoff, a flight attendant tapped me on the shoulder and told me to take off my nursing cover and to stop breastfeeding, because "holding a baby like that" on a plane is against the rules. I told her that I'd never heard that before, and that hadn't ever been my previous experience on the airline the three previous instances I've flown with them with my baby. I just nodded and continued to nurse E, because I knew she wasn't going to come back during takeoff. She needs to suck to help the pressure in her ears, and she was also quite hungry.

I thought that removing my cover had to do with them needing to see my hands or something, but the lady directly across the aisle from me was covered head to knees in a fur jacket, and the guy in front of her had an ominous looking hoodie jacket on that extended about a foot over his face. I didn't know what difference it made if my baby is covered or not when practically that entire lady's body was covered, and the other guy's face was covered.

A little while later after the seatbelt sign had turned off, a different flight attendant tapped me and said "Ma'am, you have to take off that "harness", it's against FAA rules and AirTran's rules." I said that I worked for the FAA for two years and had never heard that rule before, and she then said that it was AirTran's rule. I said "I am *breastfeeding* my baby underneath this cover, would it be different if I used a regular blanket instead?" I was willing to use it if it would make them happy.

I did show the FA that it was not a sling or harness by picking up the bottom. I told them it was just a blanket with a strap at the top.

She didn't answer, but went back, motioned to another attendant and came back a few minutes later and said to "Never mind, don't worry about it." However at this point I had several rows of people looking at us wondering what the heck was going on. It was so embarrassing.

So, I thought everything was over and done with, though I was upset.

Just before the captain announced we were to land, the first flight attendant tapped me yet again and said "Ma'am, you need to remove the "harness" for landing." I said "No thanks." At this point I'm thinking that there was miscommunication between the two attendants, since the second told me not to worry about it.

She said "You HAVE to remove your "harness" for landing, we already told you that." I replied that it wasn't a harness, it was a nursing blanket, and I'm breastfeeding my child. She said "You need to remove it." I was sick of the harassment, and I told her no.

She said "Ma'am, we CANNOT LAND THE PLANE (she made sure to say this nice and loudly so that others could hear) unless you take it off!"

I asked her if she was joking, and she said she wasn't, and that she was going to talk to the captain about it. My heart is pounding, I'm terribly upset now because I'm just trying to discreetly feed my daughter and help her poor ears.

The second flight attendant came back and told me that the captain said I must remove it because it was a safety issue, and that if we had a crash landing, my cover could "crush" my child. (I am not making this up.)

At this point I just totally gave up because I really didn't want to cause any problems for anyone else. People are looking at us, I took off my cover, put myself back together while trying not to burst into tears. They effectively made me stop nursing Ella. I felt physically endangered by their actions. I thought that an over-zealous passenger would take matters into their own hands, and not stop to ask questions. I thought that I was going to be arrested at the gate, and I had visions of them taking my daughter away from me.

As I left the plane, the two attendants made sure to say in a sing-songy voice "Have a great night, Ma'am!" Unfortunately I couldn't leave the jet way because I was waiting for my stroller to be given me, so I had to endure their stares, and those of all the other exiting passengers while waiting for it. I called Ian, and he could immediately sense there was something wrong, because I had tears in my voice.

I can honestly say this is the worst flight I've ever had, the worst customer service I've ever had, and one of the more humiliating experiences of my entire life.

I heard back form AirTran several days later.

They had a woman call, she sounded very sweet and nice and said that she is/was a nursing mother.

Basically she said that:

a) They were sorry
b) She guessed that the FAs had a problem with breastfeeding
c) There is no FAA regulation on how to hold an in-lap child
d) There is no AirTran policy on how to hold an in-lap child
e) FA should never have threatened to not land the plane
f) They would retrain those two FAs
g) They were pleased to offer me a $100 credit on my NEXT AirTran flight

She also made some comments about Emily Gilette (who I have actually spoken to) being kicked off the Delta flight, I guess to make me feel "better" saying, "I don't know all the details, but I understand that she was totally exposed. You and I aren't like that - we're discreet."

She told me that she hoped I shared my conversation with others, so I am.

BTW, in my letter to AirTran, I asked them to make their policies available on their website and on the aircraft, and she said "That's impossible because it would be too long." yet a few minutes later she said that flight attendant had their own copies and could refer back to it.

I am extremely disappointed that the airline would assume I would ever fly with their company again, insulting me by offering me a measly credit "toward [my] next flight". Incredibly insulting.

I would like a written apology.


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by Ryman Posted Sat February 24, 2007 @ 10:06 PM

You may not have agreed with what you were being asked to do, but you
failed to obey a flight attendant. As a former employee of the FAA I
would think you would be well aware that to do so is a crime, and can
result in arrest.


by >Leanne< Posted Fri February 23, 2007 @ 12:25 PM

Although your letter is lengthy I do feel it describes the situation
quite well. I'm sorry they did that to you but apparently they did not
know how to tactfully enforce the rules. I'm glad Air tran addressed
this and apologized to you, and will speak to them. I doubt you will
get a further apology in writing because anything in writing can be
used against them.

On the flip side, you could have taken the baby off your breast for
the five or ten minutes to land the plane, however, there is a big
chance the baby would start screaming and then comments and stares and
who knows what would most likely be the next thing. It's one of those
things where you just can't predict what is going to happen next. I
think it's great that you wrote the letter :)


by calm Posted Thu February 22, 2007 @ 11:14 PM

I don't know anything about airline policies and FAA rules, but I do
have experience with flight attendants (and pilots, and gate
personnel, and security screeners) singling me out loudly in front of

In one case the pilot apologized to all passengers for having to fly
with me. (At the time I used crutches, and this was after my crutches
had been taken from me by the flight attendant who then ordered me to
stand up.) In another case a gate agent announced to everyone on the
flight that I was selfishly flying and they would all die in a
horrible crash as a result. And so on.

I don't think that is *ever* acceptable (okay, that's hyperbole: if
the plane is crashing, I'm in an exit row, and I'm barely looking up
from my bok it makes sense); if they have problems they should bring
them to me in as discreet a manner as possible. And I also think that
it encourages passengers to see people like me as the enemy (which is
an ideological justification in their eyes for refusing to comply with
the civil rights laws that protect us.

I understand the impulse.

I think that that impulse, like the impulse to pee whenever and
wherever you feel the urge, should be checked.


What? by Courtney C. Fri February 23, 2007 @ 2:05 PM

by PaintedLady Posted Thu February 22, 2007 @ 9:43 PM

I agree the FAs did not handle this situation well at all, and the
airlines need to have written policies available to all.
However, it seems as if your discomfort at nursing in public caused
much of your distress. I doubt that an "over-zealous passenger would
take matters into their own hands", or that you were truly "physically
endangered by their actions," you were uncomfortable and felt the
center of attention. Unfortunately, even in today's society, when you
breastfeed in public, you WILL be noticed. People will often either
stare, or will be obvious in their attempt to ignore what you are
doing. That is an unfortunate fact of life, and you just need to be
strong and learn to ignore it. In this case, I'm sure alot of the
stares had to do with your failing to follow the orders of the FAs,
something that is guaranteed to rivet everyone's attention on you
these days. Before you decide "I don't understand," I am a mother and
I did breastfeed (even in public).

You did receive an apology (I think the lady was attempting to make
you feel better, well handled or not), what good would a written one


by Jeffrey Posted Thu February 22, 2007 @ 1:34 PM

This topic always get a lot of traffic. I have a few thoughts,
outside of the obvious "the FAs really goofed this one up."

(1) It's never safe to hold an infant on a plane. During
takeoff/landing and turbulence, it's impossible to hold in infant
safely. The safest place is in a FAA-approved car seat. However,
most parents of infants (including myself) have opted to hold our
children. It's cheaper than paying for a seat and, as Emily points
out, you can do much better job of calming a child you're holding than
one in a seat. Make no mistake, however, it's unsafe.

(2) That being said, the FA's claim of holding the infant in an unsafe
way really doesn't make a ton of sense. While there are, clearly,
more dangerous ways to hold a child, I doubt the harness would have
been that much more unsafe than simply having the child in your lap.
During extreme turbulence, you're as likely to crack the child's head
into the tray table as you'd be beheading the child with the strap
(not meaning to be overly graphic here). So, the FA's concern seems
over the top.

(3) Even with an FA is being ridiculous, you DO have to comply with
their instructions. Had the pilot agreed, you could have run the risk
of the plane not being able to land and would have been subject to
arrest. Not for the breastfeeding or holding the child, but for the
very real crime of disobeying airline crew instructions. Yes, the FA
was being stupid. But your outright refusal would have run the risk
of having some wrathful co-passengers and possible arrest. At some
point, you turn from a parent trying to do the best for her child into
an activist.

(4) It sounds like the customer service person that spoke to you was
also inappropriate in some of her comments.

(5) Do you really need a written apology? You got a verbal apology,
which should be sufficient, no? Again, your taking it this extra step
makes it seem like you're more an activist than a parent. Surely, all
you want is to do the best for your child, not to make a big case over

In the end, however, the FAs were being stupid, but there's got to be
a reason. The demands made on you were not consistent with someone
that objects to BF (as was the case with Emily Gillette), since it
doesn't sound like you were asked not to feed. Only not to use your
homemade device. There's GOT to be more to the story than what's
here, at least from the FAs standpoint. Surely, she MUST have had a
specific issue with the harness.


I agree... by PaintedLady Thu February 22, 2007 @ 9:21 PM

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