What should have been a routine flight out of the Gold Coast Airport in Australia wound up being a humiliating, embarrassing mess for a breastfeeding mom.
Virginie Rutgers and her 10-month-old son were nestled aboard a Virgin Australia flight when the confrontation happened. She says that both she and her little boy were properly strapped into their respective seats when the plane began to taxi, and she leaned over to nurse him. She draped a sling over herself and her baby because she prefers to nurse with a cover, but she soon found out that that wasn’t OK.
A flight attendant came over and told her to remove the baby sling, and both the mother and a witness describe the escalating situation, which resulted in the staff member being abusive. According to both women, the staff did not indicate why she had to remove the carrier, and since she wasn’t keen to move it, they went back to the terminal, where she was hustled off the plane.
Even stranger, someone summoned the police, and though no charges were filed, they did speak to the distraught woman, who was left stranded and had to catch a flight the following day.
Was this a breastfeeding issue, or a safety issue? That’s not 100 percent clear, but while the mother was confronted while she was breastfeeding her baby, it seems that it was the sling that was the sticking point. Virgin Australia said in a statement, “The safety of our guests is always our number one priority and there are a number of CASA regulations that must be followed on board to safeguard this, including ones that apply specifically to infants.” They also stated they could not comment on specific cases, but it seems that the carrier fabric was the issue.
However, if that is the case, why didn’t they explain that to the mother? I’m not sure if the staff thought the baby was in the carrier itself and that’s what caused the holdup, but when you’re dealing with the public, coming across as a jerk and not explaining safety rules thoroughly usually works against you.
While Virgin Australia refused to comp her hotel stay and taxi service she used the night she was stranded, they did offer flight credit to help make up some of those costs. However, she says she will never fly Virgin again. Whether she feels like she was discriminated against because she was breastfeeding or not, the fact is that the airline staff didn’t handle the situation with tact and compassion while maintaining the standards of safety.