Whenever a breastfeeding mom makes headlines for being involved in a stressful situation, particularly in public, it's unfortunately no surprise. Moms who are simply trying to feed their little ones often face unnecessary challenges at every turn, especially while traveling. Case in point: A nursing mother from Arizona named Sarah Salow was flying on December 7 with her husband and 13-month-old son from Boston to Phoenix when she was charged $150 to check her frozen breast milk.
The Salows had basic economy seats on American Airlines, and therefore a limited number of carry-on bags allowed. According to USA Today, Salow called the airline prior to the trip to make sure it would be all right to bring a cooler and breast milk. When she traveled from Phoenix to Boston, there was no problem carrying it on for free. But on the way back, the situation took an aggravating turn.
"We were boarding with the last group and heard over the load speaker repeatedly that our flight was full and that they were taking volunteers to complimentary gate check their bag if they had a carry on," Salow noted in a post in the popular Facebook group, "Breastfeeding Mama Talk." "When we approached the counter to have our tickets scanned, the women at the counter told us we had too many bags and we would have to check one. I explained that our diaper bag and backpack were personal items, and the cooler contained our son’s breast milk and that it was necessary to keep it with us. They told us it was not necessary. They then told us we would have to pay to have the cooler checked, so we stepped off to the side to process the transaction as other passengers scanned their tickets and boarded the flight. One of the women told us it would cost $150 to gate check our cooler when they were doing so as a courtesy just moments ago to other passengers. We were shocked."
The couple was told they could condense their bags, but of course the frozen breast milk needed to stay in the cooler, and they didn't have extra space in their bags, Salow explained in the post. "Other passengers behind us that didn’t have any personal baggage offered to carry the cooler on for us, but the women at the counter wouldn’t allow it," she elaborated. "Because we are a young, growing family it wasn’t economical for us to spend $150 to check the cooler and we were forced to leave it behind. As we boarded the plane, myself in tears, the women continued to berate us that ‘we were welcome for them saving us $150’ and that ‘we created this situation for ourselves’."
So outrageous! Other airline employees offered to help but were turned down, according to Salow. And then, she realized that the flight was, in fact, not full, and there was overhead storage available above their own seats.
"We have traveled as a family several times before and have never run into this issue," Salow, who exclusively pumped for her son "since day one," wrote. "We have only been treated with empathy and courtesy because everyone knows that traveling with an infant can be challenging. ... Our son has a severe dairy allergy and my breast milk is specific and necessary for his wellbeing. ... I’ve heard of these horror stories from other moms and have always sworn I would never find myself in the situation to have to leave my milk behind and today it happened to me and I am a absolutely devastated. Not only for my son but for how myself and my family were treated."
Salow vowed to share her experience with the public, so that other families could "protect themselves by flying with another airline as to not experience the absurdity we did."
American Airlines issued a statement to ABC15, confirming what Salow had initially believed to be the case and experienced on the first leg of her trip. "The customer should have been allowed to fly with the breast milk, and we apologize that a mistake was made in this case," the airline said. "We have clarified our policies with our team members."
To fully resolve the issue, Salow tells USA Today that she wants just two things from the airline: reimbursement for the $50 cooler and a more straightforward policy to preempt future headaches for parents. Her goal: "If we can save the next mom in line, justice is served for me."