No Meals on the Plane

Filed under:Jerks,Mothering,Priorities — posted by Anwyn on November 22, 2006 @ 9:18 pm

Not even for breastfeeders.

The original incident, in which a nursing mother, her 22-month-old daughter, and her husband were kicked off a flight for refusing the attendant’s directive to “cover up,” took place on October 13. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to have made it into the news until this “nurse-in” protest was planned.

So there’s no doubt about where my bias lies, here it is: I’m a mother of a three-year-old boy who nursed until he was just over a year old. I don’t swear in public; I don’t say “f— you” to anybody, much less strangers, but if, while I was nursing, a flight attendant had said to me, as other reports say this one said to Emily Gillette, “You’re offending me” and then ordered me to “cover up” (not a “request,” in my book), that person would have earned him- or herself a hearty exception to both rules. Right before I was kicked off the flight.

Another aside before we get down to the breastfeeding issue: the flight attendant was throwing her weight around. My dad is a former airline pilot; ticket agents and flight attendants have more power over “nonrevs” (friends and family of employees flying at a reduced rate or free) than over ordinary air-travel mortals. And some of them abuse it. Now that I no longer fly nonrev, I’m still sensitive to power-mongering over full-fare customers. Clearly, there’s no rule against breastfeeding on an airplane, but those “federal regulations” we hear about on every flight require us to comply with crewmember instructions or be kicked off the flight…apparently, no matter how out of line those instructions are.

So how out of line were they? Again, as a nursing mom: very fracking out of line. By Emily Gillette’s own account, she was seated in the row second from the back of the plane, she was in the window seat, her husband was between her and the aisle, and between her nursing shirt and her daughter, her breast was completely covered.

Enter flight attendant: “You’re offending me.” Answer? Depends. Polite: “Sorry, but we’ve been sitting here for three hours and this is our nursing time.” Non-conciliatory but still polite: A smile and nothing more. Impolite: “So?”

Flight attendant (handing passenger a fuzzy, staticky, used airline blanket): “Cover up.” Answer? Depends. Polite: “Sorry, but my daughter’s old enough that she won’t tolerate a blanket over her head–she’ll just push it off” (and if you don’t believe me, you’ve never met a nearly-two-year-old). Non-conciliatory but still polite: “No, thank you.” Impolite: Ignore the power-tripping, pettycrat biatch.

I have no idea which route Emily Gillette took. It’s possible that she got mouthy enough that the flight attendant felt she had a good case for booting a “noncompliant” passenger–but I doubt it. If she had been that rowdy, it would have made the news in the first place, before the protest was planned.

The bottom line: breastfeeding is not indecent. Contrary to the “discretion” cant, most nursing moms I’ve encountered are not eager to flop their boob out for the world; either they use a nursing shirt or other coverage, or they locate themselves in a more congenial environment, like a nursing lounge or an environment populated entirely by other moms and children. If you run into an exhibitionist nursing mom, you’ve come upon the exception rather than the rule, and exceptions are the price we pay for a free, yet polite, society.

The flight attendant was subject to some unnamed discipline, but if I were Freedom Airlines, I’d be keeping a close eye on how she handles other questionable situations. She used this one to exercise her privilege of throwing passengers off at her will, simply because the passenger refused a directive that was closer to unreasonable than not.

Cross-posted at Electric Venom.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace