Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Challenge to American Airlines!

From La Leche League, Canada
Over the years, I have spent many, many hours in the air flying from continent to continent with nursing babies. Never once has anyone said anything negative to me about it, and I've never been harassed in any way. I've flown a variety of airlines including American, Delta, international carriers, and other US carriers. Unfortunately, one mother was not so lucky. Her friend Hannah explains what happened:
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? 
“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."
Please SHARE and tell American Airlines that a woman nourishing her baby in the most natural way possible should never be shamed into covering-up!
 This is the letter that American Airlines sent in reply to her complaint. The first thing about this letter that bothers me is the idea that some might take offense to a baby being breastfed. Would they be offended if that baby were being given a bottle? Would they be offended if that baby were screaming because the pressure change hurt his ears and he couldn't relieve the pressure by sucking?

The second thing that concerns me is the idea that unless a mother is using a cover, she can't nurse discreetly. Some babies refuse to nurse with a cover. The cover actually brings more attention to the breastfeeding. A mother can absolutely nurse discreetly without a cover.

The third thing that is upsetting is the fact that we have a culture which simply does not encourage breastfeeding! The flight attendant should have been so thankful that this mother was able to get her baby to sleep and keep him quiet in the confines of a crowded airliner. She should have gone the extra mile to show appreciation to a mother who was being so considerate of those around her. She should have made sure that the nursing mother was offered plenty of liquid. She did NONE of those things. Instead she belittled and bullied the mother. It is behavior like this that contributes to our current culture surrounding breastfeeding.

Will American Airlines accept the challenge to
take leadership in creating a supportive
culture for nursing mothers?
This is World Breastfeeding Week. This year we are celebrating peer counselors, those people who support the mothers around them in breastfeeding. Certainly we don't expect an airline employee to become a peer counselor. However, wouldn't it have been lovely if that flight attendant had said a simple "thank-you" to the mother for soothing her baby? Wouldn't it have been kind if she had brought her a bottle of water and asked if she needed a pillow or anything else? That is the culture that we need to foment. American Airlines, you have the opportunity here to take leadership in this area and use this experience to propel you into the forefront of creating a culture supportive of breastfeeding mothers in the air! Will you take the challenge?

If you would like to send Mr. Rhodes an email encouraging him to take this challenge, here is his email:  tim.rhodes@aa.com

If you want to send a letter to American Airlines encouraging them to take up this challenge, here is the address:
American Airlines Customer Relations
P.O. Box 619612  MD  2400
DFW Airport, TX  75261-9612


  1. Hey, Glenni:
    Sure hope American Airlines reads this. They definitely need to change their view of how to handle breastfeeding to conform to their country's law. The stewardess was the only person bothered, not any of the passengers. All of them were fine with it and I'm sure were really relieved and happy that the baby wasn't screaming his head off due to either pressure to his ears or hunger. If the stewardess wanted a confrontational situation, a baby screaming at the top of his lungs nonstop could have been a doozey. She needs to reframe her priorities and be extremely grateful for peace and quiet that nursing brings rather than harassing a mom for doing the most natural thing in the world in a modest way (although current law says she can let it all hang out if she so desires). Hope lots of people add their thoughts to this and it gets through to American.
    Thanks for bringing this to my attention.
    Joan Willson

  2. Thank you for writing on the subject, but I have to say, I would have been just as offended had the letter read, "We believe it is reasonable to ask that the mother nurse discreetly." Whether we're expected to use a cover, or pull our shirts down over our breasts (as depicted in the photo), we're still being told to hide what we're doing. As if the need for discretion is inherent to the act of nursing a child.
    If women want to cover themselves in any fashion while nursing, fine. I do it to some extent myself. But it shouldn't be the expectation. But then, I'm one of those crazies who recognizes the fact that male and female breasts are not so very different, and believes women should be able to remove their tops anywhere men can...