I am extraordinarily sad. It is 2015. As a woman and mother, I should not be harassed for needing a breast pump.
On a recent flight, while boarding, I was asked to step outside of the line. I was confused. The boarding attendant became stern. “Ma’am, you are only allowed one personal item,” she said. I mentioned the other bag was my pump. I don’t know if she didn’t understand or was confused, but she refused to let me board. She required that I step outside of the line to “consolidate my things.” A pump is a medical device. Per USAirways policy, medical devices are allowed in addition to your personal item and carry on bag. In fact, per their own policy it states “Assistive devices such as wheelchairs, canes, crutches, strollers, car seats, medical supplies or equipment, and outer garments do not count as personal items.” However, they do not specifically state breast pumps.
Embarrassed and frustrated, I stepped to the side and shoved my pump bag into my carry on. I was only able to zip my bag half way and I had items spilling out, but I rushed by hoping she wouldn’t notice.
As I boarded the plane there were two women in front of me giving me odd looks. I said, “I can’t believe they wouldn’t allow me to carry on my pump.” I wanted them to know I wasn’t trying to sneak on two bags. They smiled politely and then one women reiterated, “You can only have one personal item.”
Wow! Really? As women is this the type of treatment we accept and even expect?
After I boarded the plane a nice gentleman helped me stuff my oversized bag into the carry on bin. As I sat in my seat I begin to get angry. I double checked the USAirways policy and then flagged a flight attendant named Denise. I told her I knew that she was busy, but I had a question if she didn’t mind once the flight took off. She stopped right then and said she was happy to help me now. Denise was amazing. When I told her what happened she told me that breast pumps were allowed in addition to your personal item. She then helped me retrieve mine to prevent from crushing my suits and allowed me to place it under my seat. Later she checked on me to make sure my bag was alright (I thought I had broken the zipper.)
Denise knows great customer service! Kudos Denise. She also saved USAirways from my full blown wrath. Imagine how different this post could have been if it wasn’t for Denise’s understanding and accommodating attitude. What troubled me however, was that she told me that she just read a memo that they were now classifying breast pumps as medical devices. Her explanation to me was that everyone had probably not been trained.
Wow! Really? It is 2015. Why is this just being implemented. Breast pumping when you are away from your infant is as much a necessity as using the restroom. It is painful if you don’t; it can cause infection and more importantly if I don’t pump my supply will dry up. This means no more breast milk for my baby.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states: “Given the documented short- and long-term medical and neurodevelopmental advantages of breastfeeding, infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice. The American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.”
USAIRWAYS ARE YOU READING THIS? THE AAP BELIEVES INFANT NUTRITION IS A PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE! (Yes, I realize I am yelling. I am sorry. Let’s consider this passion.)
Let’s also be clear about pumping. Pumping is not fun! Sitting in bathrooms, cars or even closets to express breast milk for your child can feel demeaning. Even places of employment often don’t have adequate or enough facilities to accommodate nursing mothers. Not to mention, having to pump for at least 15-20 minutes every 3 hours is anything but convenient. It also is embarrassing. Imagine sitting in an important work meeting, scheduled during a time you should be pumping, with your breasts hurting and pounding until you finally have to excuse yourself to pump. Let me tell you how many fun looks you get for that announcement.
So I am sad. I am sad because organizations like USAirways, and the American culture in general, discriminate against women in a myriad of ways. The first National Women’s Rights Convention was held in 1850 and we are still needing to fight for basic rights, such as the ability to breastfeed or pump in order to feed our male and female children.
Despite being sad, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that even though it has taken this long organizations are starting to do the right thing.
So listen up USAirways (and all other organizations). Train your employees. Train them all. Train them quickly, because you are behind the times.
Have you been discriminated against for breastfeeding in public or needing to pump? Share your stories in the comments below.
Peace, Love and Forward Progress
Update 3.10.15: After talking to several people about this incident I realized that this is not isolated for USAirways. They have denied boarding to several women for trying to carry on their pump. However, on my return flight I simply stated I was carrying a medical device and I had no issue.
This is part one in a several part series on breast pumping and feeding for working moms and all moms who have chosen to breast feed.