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USAir Discriminated Against, Harrassed Working Nursing Mom

USAir Discriminated Against, Harrassed Working Nursing Mom

Old Oct 4, 14, 7:50 pm
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Angry USAir Discriminated Against, Harrassed Working Nursing Mom

FTer mikeef suggested I share my story. On Tuesday, 9/30, a USAir agent would not let me board flight 558 from PHL to BOS with a personal item, rollerboard suitcase, and a bag containing breastmilk and a breastpump because they told me that "a breastpump is not a medical device" and that breastmilk is not a medical item. After I calmly protested, she told me to step out of the boarding line and over to two other agents, who told me that breastpumps and breastmilk were not considered medical items. I informed the agents that breastpumps are FDA-regulated medical devices, that breastmilk is a medical item according to TSA regulations, that I had gone through security with no problem, that I had taken at least 10 flights carrying on these items with no problem, and that I had called to make sure these items were medical devices before I started flying while nursing. They replied that I would only be allowed to take the items on if I had my baby with me. I replied that this defied common sense: I needed these items precisely BECAUSE my baby was not with me. Remaining calm, I agreed to check my rollerboard but told them I would be submitting a complaint to USAir. Upon boarding the plane, I discovered that there would have been plenty of room for my bag in the overhead bins.

After I boarded the plane and got seated, the gate agent came onto the plane and said, "Excuse me, were you the one with the breastpump and the breastmilk?" -- embarrassing me by announcing that I was nursing and carrying these items to all of my fellow business travelers. She then demanded to see my boarding pass. She proceeded to start to tear it, saying, "I'm just going to take this. You don't need it, do you?" I replied that I did need it, and she handed it back to me and left.

This treatment amounts to discrimination against working, nursing moms by USAir. Working moms who are required to check baggage because they need to carry with them medically necessary items suffer compared to other similarly situated business travelers who are not nursing, or who require other types of medical equipment aboard the plane. Working moms may not be able to perform their jobs as effectively if they are unable to travel without checking luggage. Requiring nursing moms to check luggage may put them and their babies at medical risk if milk or a pump should be lost. And many moms need to pump in flight.

I am only glad that the baggage compartments were not full on flight 558, which would have required all passengers to check their carry-on luggage. Two weeks ago, on another USAir flight from PHL, I was on a flight where this occurred, and the gate agent required all passengers to check their carry-ons except me because my items were medically necessary. These differences in application of USAir's policies toward nursing, working moms create confusion and make it difficult for women to plan how to work while caring for their children.

The gate agent's actions on the plane amounted to harrassment. My fellow passengers were aghast at the strangeness and rudeness of her behavior. One commented that breastpumps were considered medical devices when she nursed more than 30 years ago.

I submitted a complaint to USAir via its regular complaint channels and have yet to receive a response. I will also be filing complaints with the TSA and DOT. I hope that USAir will clarify its policies so that other women will not have to face similar treatment.

Last edited by Katja; Oct 8, 14 at 11:10 am
jgoldenpine is offline  
Old Oct 4, 14, 11:15 pm
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That's ridiculous. I'm sorry that happened to you. You were right to file a complaint, and thanks for sharing.
rabtech is offline  
Old Oct 4, 14, 11:29 pm
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Wirelessly posted (BlackBerry: BlackBerry8530/ Profile/MIDP-2.1 Configuration/CLDC-1.1 VendorID/417)

I have no idea whether the OP has a valid complaint, but following up with the TSA is unlikely to accomplish anything. If the OP wants to file a complaint about US Airways' conduct in this case, it should probably be filed with the U.S. DOT.
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Old Oct 5, 14, 6:29 am
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Unfortunately, our laws are full of strange ambiguities (mostly, they were written by men, who through the ages have viewed childbirth as a "disability"):


Complaints Alleging Discriminatory Treatment Against Disabled
Travelers Under The Air Carrier Access Act and 14 CFR Part 382

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA, 49 U.S.C. 41705) prohibits discrimination by U.S. and foreign air carriers on the basis of physical or mental disability. The Department of Transportation, in interpreting and implementing the ACAA, has issued a rule (14 CFR Part 382) setting forth the standards of service which air carriers are expected to provide to disabled individuals.
DOT operates a toll-free hotline to assist air travelers with disabilities. The hotline provides general information to consumers about the rights of air travelers with disabilities and responds to requests for printed consumer information. It also assists air travelers with time-sensitive disability-related issues that need to be addressed in "real time." Click here for information about this disability hotline.


If an individual believes that he or she has been subjected to treatment by an airline that violates the requirements of the ACAA or the rule and would like DOT to investigate the complaint, that person may submit a complaint to the Department's Aviation Consumer Protection Division. We encourage you to use our web form. If you prefer, you may send us a letter or a completed paper complaint form at the following address:
Aviation Consumer Protection Division
Attn: C-75-D
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, D.C. 20590
The complainant should provide:
His or her full name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, if any, and the name of the party who suffered the alleged discriminatory conduct, if other than the person submitting the complaint;

The name of the air carrier involved in the incident, as well as the date of the incident, the place where it occurred and the flight number(s) involved;

A detailed description of the incident that you believe constituted discriminatory action, including names of those involved (or a description of the individuals) and names of any witnesses; and

Any other information you believe might be helpful in supporting your complaint. Please send copies (not originals) of any pertinent documents you have relating to the incident (e.g., ticket, boarding passes, itinerary sheets, and correspondence to and from the carrier involved).
LINK to page.

Hope you succeed; it should help other nursing mothers with this kind of Victorian behaviour.

Last edited by JDiver; Oct 5, 14 at 6:36 am
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Old Oct 5, 14, 1:05 pm
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Welcome to FlyerTalk, this sounds like an unfortunate incident. Couple of thoughts for you to mull over...

First, what sort of resolution would be acceptable, both on a system and a personal level? I am in no way implying that you came into this with a, "what's in it for me" idea, though being spoken to in that manner, in public, would leave me smarting... and I can take quite a bit of flak. Let them make an offer- be prepared to be offered a discount voucher or additional miles.

Second, regarding notifying US, anything less than a certified letter packs the punch of... not much. If it can be ignored, it is likely to be ignored. Make it impossible for them to ignore.

Third, as others have mentioned, forget TSA- that would be like complaining to the hostess about how your steak was undercooked.

A one-page letter filled with facts (date, time, flight, description of the gate agent in question- remember, there are often more than one working a flight, and any opportunity for ambiguity will work in the airline's favor) should yield you some piece of mind and resolution.

Good luck.

Oh- and one more thing- now that you've found FT, take some time to look around at what there is to offer... your next flights may be more enjoyable and almost free.
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Old Oct 6, 14, 4:53 am
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The agent made an error about whether the items classified as medical devices. That is unfortunate for you, but is not really discrimination because you are a "Working Nursing Mom". They would not let you include the items as part of the medical things you are permitted to carryon and not count them in your carryon allowance. They didn't care whether you took onboard the bag with the breast pump or another bag. The issue was the agent thought you had too many items for carryon. It was an error, and a training issue, but has NOTHING to do with discrimination about whether you breastfeed or not, or whether you are a working mother or not. it was simply an uninformed employee not knowing what counted as a medical device. If you had breathing issues and they agent didn't know a CPAP machine was permitted as additional carryon, the issue would have been the same.
I don't know why there needs to be a DOT complaint here. I am quite sure USAir will respond to your complaint if you tell them. Did you ask for a supervisor at the time?
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Old Oct 7, 14, 11:36 am
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It may not have intended to be discrimination, but the act of denial was de facto a discriminatory act, and as such is covered by law. Since males don't generally breastfeed, it is also gender ("sex") -based discrimination as defined under the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 and resulting decisions. In particular, gender-based discrimination is prohibited by U.S. Code Title 42, Chapter 21, that "prohibits discrimination against persons based on age, disability, gender, race, national origin, and religion (among other things) in a number of settings -- including education, employment, access to businesses and buildings, federal services, and more."

US should get a dope slap to make sure employees are properly trained (the law requires the company to prevent further instances as well as address the existing one). A formal complaint with the data required by the complaint tesolution authority the OP chooses and a copy to them would likely be that slap.

The OP may slso choose not to join that battle, but merely asing for compensation is likely to render some miles and no corrective action to prevent further instances.

Last edited by JDiver; Oct 7, 14 at 11:49 am
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Old Oct 14, 14, 8:25 pm
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I don't have advice to offer, but I just wanted to say that I am sorry this happened to you. It is unacceptable, and I cannot imagine keeping my cool in that situation.

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Old Oct 21, 14, 5:04 pm
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I too am aghast at the behavior of the gate agent. Surely she ripped your boarding pass only to thwart investigation.
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Old Oct 27, 14, 12:43 am
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I suggest you first write a letter to US Airways. Keep it simple and to the point. This was an issue of airline personnel not allowing you to bring a medical device on board because staff did not know the policy. It was not discrimination, and it was not harassment. Bringing up those issues will complicate things, put them on the defensive, and make them reluctant to respond. Also don't bring up the TSA, because what you can bring through a checkpoint and what you can carry onto the plane are two separate issues.

My guess is that the airline will probably throw some miles at you and promise to "retrain" their staff. If you can't get resolution from the airline, you can always go to your local newspaper. They love juicy, shocking stories about big, bad corporations abusing poor working, nursing mothers, and one short article will get the airline's attention.
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