American Airlines

A mother on an American Airlines flight was reportedly treated inappropriately while she was breastfeeding her small son, and she felt the apology the company sent wasn’t much of an apology at all. Where do you stand?

Mom harassed,
company apologizes?

A mom was flying American Airlines and, while occupying a window seat, began nursing her infant son after takeoff to help alleviate pain and pressure on his ears. When a flight attendant treated her with disdain, she was upset, and filed a complaint on the company’s website.

The response she received was, she felt, less than stellar — and moms are left wondering how an airline can have a policy that allows employees to request that breastfeeding women cover up.

The incident

The original incident took place on July 21, 2013, when the mother (who wishes to remain anonymous) settled in to nurse her baby. She reported that she was in a window seat next to her husband, and there was an un-related pre-teen girl on the aisle seat who was busy talking with her friends in surrounding seats. As she breastfed her baby, she noticed a passing flight attendant glare in her direction. She mentioned this to her husband and they agreed it wasn’t a big deal because they really didn’t think it’d go any further.

They were wrong.

The mom wrote, "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.'" Her husband declined, saying they preferred to not use a blanket, and the attendant offered to move the girl at the end of the row, who was completely oblivious to the fact that the mother was nursing.

For the rest of the flight, they received no drinks or any service at all, and the attendant refused to make eye contact with them.

The complaint, and “apology”

This mother submitted an online complaint via American Airlines' website and received the letter in question in response, which her friend posted on her behalf on Facebook. The letter expressed regret that she wasn’t responded to appropriately by the flight attendant and the matter would be dealt with by the Flight Attendant Manager.

The next paragraph, however, reveals the airline’s policy. In particular, it reads,  “... because of the offense that may be taken by others within the close confines of commercial aircraft, we simply ask that breastfeeding 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.”

Not good enough

Many moms feel that this really isn’t much of an apology at all. When you consider laws on the books in most states, there is usually no language included about mom covering up. Most also state that a mother has a right to breastfeed anywhere she is legally allowed to be. The question, then, is what demands should an airline be allowed to make that differ from the laws on the ground?

"I'm frustrated that people constantly use the terms ‘modesty’ and ‘discreet’ when talking about breastfeeding in public."

Most would answer that there shouldn’t be any differing or additional demands on the nursing pair. “I'm frustrated that people constantly use the terms ‘modesty’ and ‘discreet’ when talking about breastfeeding in public,” shared Rachelle, owner of the popular breastfeeding advocacy page Unlatched. “Those are subjective terms and everyone has their own definition of what they mean with regards to breastfeeding. No one has a right to tell someone what to do with their own body and child. Only the mother can decide if she wants to cover or not.”

Other moms totally agree. While some moms are happy to cover up, others are not, and often the baby doesn’t care for it either. It can get hot and uncomfortable under a cover and it can also prove to be a huge distraction. “She deserves an apology and a promise that this won't happen to anyone else,” said Brittney, mother of two. “Most states have laws that allow a mother to nurse her child anywhere that she may be, and that legal protection should extend to aircraft as well, where no one would bat an eye at a baby eating from a bottle. Everyone should be glad the baby was content — crying babies on airplanes are no fun for anyone.”

American Airlines is experiencing a bit of a backlash and there are rumblings of a boycott. This isn’t the first time they’ve been in the news recently with breastfeeding attached — earlier this year, a mom was told she could not pump during an American Airlines flight. But it’s just a matter of time before the company policy gets a good, hard look and possibly gets revised to fully accommodate nursing moms and their babies.

More on breastfeeding

Breastfeeding: Why pumping or covering may not be an option
Kicked off a plane for breastfeeding
What a trip! Air travel with an infant


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Comments on "American Airlines breastfeeding policy called into question"

Shirley February 28, 2014 | 9:17 AM

My comment is really because of the Women that flew on Delta, did not use a cover and went to the internet with her complaint. I think she was really just looking for a free airline ticket. Any of the airlines have a right to make rules to fly we know them before boarding and either accept them or find other mode of transportation. If you can't cover up there are other options such as feeding in the restroom out of sight of passengers that may be offended or just plain don't want to be a spectator of child feeding. As another said urination is a natural act, and a freeway is a public place, but try stopping your auto and relieving yourself you will probablty get a ticket or taken to jail. Those of us that are offended or uneasy with breastfeeding in public also have rights

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Marie August 12, 2013 | 3:42 PM

I breastfed my kids and I chose to either cover up, bottle-feed expressed milk or just not be in public when nursing. Yes, it was inconvenient and I missed out on going out a lot but isn't a large part of parenting sacrifice? I do not want to see your breasts. I do not want my sons to see your breasts. I do not want my daughter to see your breasts. I do not want my husband to see your breasts. Cover up the girls, ladies.

Sam August 12, 2013 | 3:28 PM

I can actually understand why behind this. Not everyone wants to see it and there are things other than blankets to use. My sister used a sling and you couldn't see anything and didn't involve covering the baby fully. She agrees with me you need to think about others and how men look at breasts. Its silly people getting mad over the fact of covering up. I would feel weird exposing a breast to strangers.

Ken August 12, 2013 | 4:22 AM

Shelly, I'm not quite sure what your point is, but if you're suggesting that breast feeding is akin to masturbation, you have issues. Masturbation is a ual act. Breast feeding is nourishing a baby.

Shelly August 10, 2013 | 11:38 AM

Most people don't have an issue with breast feeding. Not anymore than the men on board masturbating in their seats....or do they need to be discreet...

Amie August 07, 2013 | 12:45 PM

It is amazing how breastfeeding unfriendly the USA is. I flew with my son to Tokoyo and Taipei when he was 4 months old and they did everything in their power to help nursing moms. Maybe this kind of environment is one of the reasons that they consistently beat us at academics.

Jen August 06, 2013 | 8:50 PM

Ha! I would bet that the persons who feel that this mother was in the wrong have never breastfed! Like others have commented, try forcing a baby over 3 months to cover up with a blanket! How would you feel if I requested that you eat with a blanket over your face because looking at it makes me sick? You'd probably be pretty offended, I'd guess. Well my baby thinks it is just as ridiculous to have a blanket over her face while she eats and will just fight and scream until I remove it. I can also say with complete confidence that I can entirely hide my boob with my arm cradling baby's head and my shirt resting right over the top of her nose and down her cheek. My own dad has sat there while I've begun feeding her and remarked, "I can't believe how good you are at doing that so discreetly." Well, we are kind of experts at this point. I totally support the family and I'm shocked every time I hear of someone being so rude to another person, and if you breastfed you would understand!

Kiran August 06, 2013 | 7:37 PM

I totally agree with some of the comments . I think AA is wrong. I and my wife fly quite often and fly Thai and Etihad also on long haul and even though she carries a nursing gown to put on top the kid plays of coming in and out . The crew at Etihad and Thai have been so helpful at times. And for the fact she was in Window seat should have already been more than enough. not that she needs to hide . I even find that sometimes breast feeding on flights helps to calm my kid down with air pressure and ear pain issue .

LMC August 06, 2013 | 5:37 PM

Uh... @MIA what exactly do you think breasts are intended for? Also, most breastfeeding women are really great at being "discreet"-- there is, after all, a baby's head involved. Usually, unless you're really looking (creepy!) you'd see no more than you would if a woman were wearing a v-neck shirt. They're boobs. Get over it.

Lisa Hawkins August 06, 2013 | 1:02 PM

There's not a damn thing immodest about breast feeding and if you think there is, you need a therapist. How about you take your uppity attitude and tell the saggers to pull their damn pants up? Oh wait...nope, not that brave are ya? Nope, let's harass a mother who is actually doing a remarkable job by BREAST FEEDING her child! Y'all naysayers need to grow the hell up! Oh, and while you're pissing and moaning about the breasts, I guess you're not watching ANYTHING from the entertainment industry that would dare show a tit! Hypocrites!

Darillyn Starr August 06, 2013 | 1:01 PM

The fact that the mother was sitting in a window seat, with her husband beside her, should have been sufficient discretion! It sounds like if the flight attendant hadn't made an issue of it, the girl in the aisle seat wouldn't have even realized what the mom was doing. I would bet that flight attendant was one of those people who had a chip on her shoulder when it came to breastfeeding. If the girl sitting on the row wasn't complaining, no one else should have had any reason for concern. If anyone didn't want to see, they didn't have to stare down that particular row! I have nursed babies on planes on quite a few occasions and never had any problem. Of course, with the longest of those flights, I was on a KLM flight, which is European. Europeans generally think a baby nursing is a lovely sight, regardless of how much breast is exposed. I always wore a loose top with pants or a skirt, so I didn't have to exposed as much of my breast. This was back before the any of the state laws protecting the rights of moms and babies came to be. I felt wearing something I lifted up, rather than pulled down, constituted meeting others half way and then I had the right not to be harassed in any way. Even on American flights, I never had a problem. There was one time I was very upset, though. I was flying back to Salt Lake City from Miami and, because of a hurricane, I was not able to get to the airport in time to get seating assignments early. I was traveling with my nine year old, my 21 month old, and a week old baby I had traveled there to adopt. There were only center seats left. They asked a few people if they would trade so that I could sit with my children, but no one would and the attendant just said "Oh well". I wasn't producing much milk yet, and was just teaching the new baby to nurse with the Lact-Aid. At that point in time, I couldn't get her started without being able to see my breast. She refused bottles so if she had gotten hungry, I would have had to expose more, sitting in between two strangers. Fortunately, she slept during the flight. I would bet that, if you took a survey of any group of passengers on an airliner, the vast majority would say that they would prefer having a mother near them nurse a baby over listening to a baby screaming to be fed!

BethTomus August 06, 2013 | 12:27 PM

I will admit that I have never breastfed; however, I am surrounded by women who do, and have been exposed to breastfeeding since I was 4. I am a major ally of modestly, however; I see nothing immodest regarding breastfeeding whether covered or not covered. Breasts were made for feeding babies not for ual pleasure. We as a society put too much emphasis on woman's breast as a object and not enough on their use to feed children. I believe if more women breastfeed in public fewer men would see the breasts as their private domain. When someone wears a revealing top it is immodest because they are trying to draw attention to their breasts as objects but if a woman is feeding her child she is not trying to draw attention to herself. The reasoning that children shouldn't see breasts is absurd. If more children and men saw breasts as a part of the body made for feeding babies we won't be having this conversation.

Jennifer August 06, 2013 | 11:55 AM

I don't understand why people feel so uncomfortable with uncovered breast feeding. The baby's head is in the way of most of the breast anyway. It isn't anything more than what you'd see in a low cut top. And on a flight you could, I don't know, look somewhere else! When I'm on a flight I'm too busy sleeping, looking out the window, reading a book, or talking to a fellow passenger than being a nosy person looking around to see what people are doing. The flight attendant also didn't need to make such a big deal. Women have breasts. Deal with it. In addition, if men are allowed to be topless in many places and if women are allowed to be topless in many cultures, doesn't it seem unfair that women have to cover up when using them for functions other than beauty?

chris August 06, 2013 | 10:47 AM

Urinating is a natural process too but I still prefer you do it with the lavatory door shut. I don't wanna see that, anymore than I wanna see a big breast hanging out. On an airplane you have nowhere to go to avoid it...its not like in public where you can just walk away. It's like free speech rights...yes, you have the right to walk down the street saying whatever you want...doesn't mean that others want to hear it or you aren't making others uncomfortable or subjecting yourself to ridicule.

AtlantaMommy August 06, 2013 | 10:17 AM

I've gotta say... I breastfed for 18 months. Went on a flight with her when she was 9 months old and breastfed her both ways on the flight. I've breastfed in public plenty of times with a cover up, and I think that breastfeeding mothers should cover up/be modest. I don't like to see someone's boob hanging out any more than the next person. On the 4th of July we were at Stone Mountain, and a woman was sitting in the walkway where everyone passed by, with her basketball-sized boob hanging out breastfeeding. I hardly even saw the baby. Even asking someone to hold up a blanket to hide the view would have been courteous. I think the lady did the appropriate thing by having a window seat, but if she doesn't want to cover the baby/boob up, she could have asked her husband to hold up a blanket to shield the view. AA did apologize. Not sure what this lady expected?

Dawn August 06, 2013 | 9:54 AM

I have to side with AA. I think modesty in all we do is correct. I get that it may get hot if your using a flannel blanket but considering it usually gets cold on planes I doubt that it would of gotten to hot, besides there are plenty of fabrics out there that are not so hot and provide a bit of modesty. I have seen women breastfeed outside in the playground and men are very uncomfortable to be around them seeing it is there natuarl tendancy to look and see what they can see. It is also uncomfortable for a lot of people. It is very easy to see the breast in most cases women don't cover the top of there breast but actually hold the material up away from the babies face. I breast fed my child and have to say I would not be willing to do so in public without a cover. seeing a nice loose weaved linen would be very cool I see no issue with it if you start your child out that way they will just be used to it. AA has a right to make whatever policy they want.

Alicia August 06, 2013 | 8:40 AM

Layla, You are mistaken about several things, but first you should understand the difference in a private and public company. AA is a publicly traded company and is in no way a private entity. "Private companies may issue stock and have shareholders. However, their shares do not trade on public exchanges and are not issued through an initial public offering." AA is a public company who sells their service to the public. Either way, the fact is that the law protect mother and baby ANYWHERE she is legally allowed to be. This covers transportation, shopping, parks, amusement parks, restaurants etc. If you are truly a supporter of breastfeeding, I urge you to understand these laws that protect both mom and baby from being told what to do with their bodies and children. One last should know that there are several things in our lives that are a privilege and not a "right" as you put it under our current laws. It is a mothers RIGHT to nurse her baby! Policies do not change quickly, and it is only through persistence and perseverance that any changes are made at all to protect the few RIGHTS we do have left. Do not claim to support something you aren't willing to defend!

Calista August 06, 2013 | 8:32 AM

My daughter allowed a cover for 2.5 months. After that point, she refused to keep one on and would fuss, scream, pull it off. We learned to breastfeed without a cover and a majority of the time nobody even knew she was eating. Kudos to this mom for bringing awareness.

Mara August 06, 2013 | 8:30 AM

Oh come on! What's appropriate and what's not FOR THE BREASTFEEDER??? SHE WAS FEEDING HER KID!!! Putting a blanket over your kid draws more attention that you are breastfeeding than than just discreetly pulling your shirt and putting your child to your breast. I doubt she was waving her breasts in the air advertising her actions. Shame on the stewardess! It's reactions like that, that prove breastfeeding NEEDS to be done in front of children!!!

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