A Minnesota mom is claiming harassment after a troubling experience at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). Katie Champ says she was reprimanded, publicly searched, had her bags “torn apart” and was intentionally delayed when she traveled through the airport on Oct. 3, 2014. Transportation Security Administration authorities told her their actions were all according to policy and were a direct result of what she chose to carry onto the plane. The highly suspect, extremely dangerous item she had in her possession? Breast milk.
Champ was flying home from Phoenix after a three-day work function. This was the longest she’d ever been away from her 14-month-old son, who still primarily breastfeeds. Fearful of the milk supply issues such a long separation could cause, Champ had faithfully pumped during her trip and was traveling home with 50 ounces of breast milk contained within milk storage bags and bottles.
Having flown with breast milk before, Champ is familiar with TSA regulations and immediately declared her milk upon reaching the screening area at PHX. Because of radiation concerns, Champ says she asked to have her milk manually tested rather than X-rayed — an option fully authorized by TSA policy. According to Champ, it was at this point the harassment began.
Photo credit: Katie Champ
“I was treated like a criminal,” Champ said. “I was reprimanded for asking that the milk not go through X-ray. I was told it was safe and to just ‘put it through the machine.’ I was told that I now needed to have a full pat-down and have all of my bags searched because I asked for a manual check.” Champ says she was informed a supervisor would have to assist her and that it would take “a while” for him to arrive. When she expressed concern over missing her flight, Champ says she was repeatedly told it wasn’t their (TSA’s) problem and that she shouldn’t have brought breast milk through security.
Upon arrival, Champ says the supervisor reiterated again that TSA policy required her to be patted down and her bags fully searched because she requested a manual screen. In actuality, TSA policy says “these steps may be used if breast milk cannot be X-rayed or opened” (to test). Champ says a female TSA officer was brought over and searched her in full public view, at one point requiring her to lift her shirt. Through everything — while crying over the way she was being treated and in a near panic over missing her flight and being forced to spend another night away from her baby — Champ says she was told over and over again that if she didn’t want to be treated this way, she shouldn’t have brought breast milk with her to the airport.
This isn’t the first time TSA officers at PHX have had such a complaint. In April 2014, another breastfeeding mom won a $75,000 settlement after an incident eerily similar to what Champ claims she went through. As part of the settlement, the TSA was supposed to “take steps to retrain its officers on proper breast milk screening procedures.” It doesn’t appear they followed through with that requirement, if Champ’s recent experience is any indication.
Champ says she feels violated and angry but also confused. “I don’t know why someone would respond the way they did. My best guess is that they don’t get it. They don’t understand breastfeeding, they don’t understand the time, energy and emotion that goes into it — especially into pumping when away from your child.”
Champ has filed complaints with both PHX and the TSA, and is still awaiting response.
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