Last week, nursing mom Lauren Modeen was waiting to board her second flight of the day on a business trip that would cause her to be away from her infant daughter for four days. She was traveling with a standard carry-on suitcase containing her breast pump, a small cooler to transport her breast milk, and her purse—but the Delta gate agents wouldn't let her on the plane, CNN reports.
Because Modeen had more than two items, she would need to consolidate her baggage, they told her. Modeen tried to explain, in front of the queue, that the suitcase contained a medical device (which is exempt from the airline’s carry-on allowance) and that she needed it on the plane. An onlooker reported that Modeen was visibly upset.
Then one of the agents claimed they had suddenly run out of room for carry-on baggage, Modeen told CNN. “She said the computer just gave her a message stating that all passengers starting with me would need to check their bags.”
As a fellow working, nursing mom, I can imagine the moment of panic Modeen felt as she checked her pump. I know well the urgency of pumping every few hours—not only to keep up my body’s milk supply and bank enough milk for my son, but also to avoid painful engorgement and (yipes!) embarrassing leakage.
So I can also imagine how mad Modeen was when she realized the agent had lied to her: “When I later entered the jet bridge, passengers lining up behind me had their suitcases,” Modeen said. Onboard the plane she tweeted at Delta’s customer care desk:
The airline has since apologized to Modeen for the incident. But a few days later, she took to Facebook with the hope that her experience could help raise awareness about women’s rights to breastfeed and pump while traveling.
The name of her Facebook page? Boobs on Board, of course. As of this posting, it had more than 750 followers (including one woman who posted that the TSA destroyed her breast pump "as if it were a bomb").
To explain the motivation behind her campaign, Modeen shared this message:
In my experience, breastfeeding and breast-pumping is a highly emotional subject. It is one that feels very personal, and at times, can make a woman feel incredibly vulnerable. I don't want my daughter to grow up and one day have the same experiences I have had.
If there is one thing I can do bring about awareness and change, to help standardize and implement the policies of breastfeeding and breast-pumping on a plane, I will feel I did my part for her. It's one thing, of the many things I will do for her.
Modeen goes on to encourage airlines to post their pro-breastfeeding and breast-pumping policies inside their aircraft, so there is no confusion on the subject. “It’s a simple change, but may put many mothers at ease,” she writes. Because really, pumping milk out of your breasts in public on a plane (or anywhere else) is tough enough as it is.