A few weeks ago, the San Diego Nursing in Public Task Force was contacted by Theresa Morawski Pulickal about an incident she needed help resolving with America Airlines. Theresa has already done an amazing job advocating for herself and almost completely resolved the situation she had with the airlines, but she needs your help to change American Airline's policy regarding transporting breast milk. She doesn’t want another mother to have to deal with the challenges she dealt with a few weeks ago. Here is her story.
I am trying to change an American Airlines policy after an experience I had traveling from Puerto Vallarta to Phoenix to San Diego a few weeks ago. While in Puerto Vallarta, I pumped breast milk for my child home in San Diego. He was not traveling with me. At the Puerto Vallarta airport I was told by the TSA agents that I could not carry my breast milk on the plane. I tried to tell them that the rules in the US state that it's okay to carry pumped milk onboard the plane and it could be tested, but they gave me a firm ‘NO’. I took my breast milk coolers to America Airlines (AA). I told them I was told to check my breast milk by the TSA agents. The American Airlines ticket agent generated a check bag tag and said it would cost $499MXN pesos. I asked if the could be waived, as it is breast milk. I told them I was not expecting a fee. They said, no, because the baby was not with me and that it was company policy to charge a fee and that he (the AA Agent) didn't agree with it either, but had to charge me. I paid the fee, as it was very important to me to bring home my milk. I checked the bag to Phoenix. In Phoenix, I spoke to the AA customer service representative. The agent told me that they should not have charged me for the bag in Puerto Vallarta, but he was unable to reimburse at his location. He told me there is no one to call and I would have to make a claim online through the comment/compliant website. I picked up my bag and went through TSA in Phoenix to San Diego with no problem. They looked at my milk and tested the cooler bag. I was allowed to carry on.
When I got home, I submitted a complaint on the AA website and I posted my experience on Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp.
The next day I received a call from Jana at AA’s customer relations explaining she was contacting me due to my social media posts. She reiterated that AA’s policy is that you only get a free bag only if the child is along with you for travel and that milk is not considered a medical necessity so it does not qualify to be free. I asked how I could get the policy changed and she said I had already voiced my concern and it was now being handling internally. I was offered a $50 voucher (that I did not want) and instead asked her to follow up with the policy change.
I posted my updated status on Facebook. Later I received a message through Facebook saying that AA will reimburse me for the bag in 7-10 days. I wrote back thanking them for the reimbursement, but asked if this could lead to a policy change. I received a generic message saying they appreciated my feedback.
Last week, I received a formal letter from American Airlines’s customer relations stating that they had done a thorough investigation of my incident. The letter included this paragraph: “We apologize for the inconvenience caused when you were unable to carry-on your breast milk with you from Puerto Vallarta to Phoenix. Our customer service personnel are expected to be knowledgeable of our baggage policies including information about exempted articles such as medication and other assistive devices. Please accept our sincere apology for our service failure as well as any resulting anxiety or inconvenience this may have caused you.” I was then offered a full refund for my checked breast milk bag.
After I received this formal email, I called back to clarify American Airline’s policy and was told by the agent that a fee would still be charged if breast milk is checked because it was not considered a medical necessity.
While I am very appreciative that American Airlines worked so quickly to resolve my incident, I would like to take this opportunity to ask American Airlines to change their baggage policy with regards to checking pumped breast milk. I am reaching out to other mothers and advocates of breast feeding/pumping/nursing to get this policy changed. I feel that even though my child wasn't with me and TSA wouldn't allow my breast milk to be carried on that American Airlines shouldn't be charging a fee to check pumped breast milk. I think it should be free, just like a cane, a diabetic’s insulin, or an oxygen tank. To some babies, pumped breast milk is a medical necessity and a mom shouldn’t have to pay to bring it home to her baby. That is what I want to see changed.
Call to action: How you can help!
Let’s see if we can get American Airlines to change their policy on checked breast milk! Here are some easy ways to have your voice heard:
Post the following message on American Airlines’ Facebook page:
Thank you for refunding a mom’s baggage fee when she had to check her pumped breastmilk due to a TSA mistake. How about instating a policy update where all moms are exempt from paying a baggage fee if TSA requires them to check their pumped milk with your airlines? What a great way to support your passengers and their families!
Copy this email and send it to American Airlines’ Customer Relations Department
(Make sure to use these parameters: Topic (Customer Relations), Subject (Complaint), Reason (Other), and when it asks 'Is your comment or concern related to your flight', choose 'No')
Dear American Airlines,
As a breastfeeding advocate, I am asking that you consider updating your policy so that breastfeeding/pumping moms may check their pumped milk on your flights, at no charge. Whether a mom is traveling with or without her child, she depends on bringing home her pumped breastmilk safely so that she can provide nourishment to her child at the end of her travels. The benefits of breastmilk are vast and beyond any other substitute, which is why a mom works so diligently to pump and bring home her milk to her child. While TSA is supposed to allow a mother to carry her pumped milk on board, sometimes TSA agents make a mistake, which require a mother to check her pumped milk. I am asking you to consider adding pumped breastmilk to your list of items that are exempt from baggage charges, such as a cane, booster seat, or stroller. Breastmilk is DEFINITELY a medical necessity! This would help your airlines stand out among the others as being supportive of all families and their needs.
Thank you for your time and consideration.