Breast Milk Battle on American Airlines As Gate Agent Leaves Mom In Tears

An American Airlines passenger shared their ordeal boarding a flight with breast milk and being told they weren’t allowed to bring it on board, they’d have to ‘consolidate’ it into their carry on or give it up in order to fly.

She was carrying 48 ounces of milk in a soft-sided cooler. She had no problem bringing it through airport security – but her American Airlines gate agent told her she couldn’t bring it on board even though American Airlines policy is clear that she could.

The woman began crying and tried to show the agent her employer’s rules. Eventually she broke down, because the milk would spoil without being in the cooler packed with ice the way she was carrying it. She “squash[ed] some of it into [her] bag but couldn’t make it fit with the ice so most of it is unusable.” She explained the importance of it,

My son is struggling to gain weight and I have to feed him extra EBM after every feed. Plus this was the first time I’d been away from him and I was feeling so much stress. I worked hard the two days I was away for work to pump every 3-4 hours, get a hotel room with a freezer, etc., so I could replenish my freezer stash and give him the extra food he needs to lose the “failure to thrive” diagnosis. All for nothing.

I feel so guilty and also hopeless for humanity. Everyone was just watching this happen and no one intervened.

American Airlines didn’t let me board with breastmilk today
byu/Interesting-Lynx-494 inbreastfeeding

According to American Airlines policy,

You can travel with a breast pump and small, soft-sided cooler of breast milk in addition to your carry-on or personal item. These items don’t have to be checked and are allowed even when you’re not traveling with a child.

Airline rules can seem byzantine at times – but they’re confusing not just to passengers, but to employees as well. Often they learn the rules out of habit, or from colleagues, rather than getting the rules right. And they have bad days, too, just like passengers do and face bad incentives created by the airlines which virtually guarantee poor customer service.

I’ve been forced to gate check a bag where there was plenty of overhead bin space still available and so I just ignored the agent and brought the bag on board anyway instead of dropping it off at the bottom of the jet bridge.

One passenger actually called the police on an aggressive gate agent who demanded they gate check heir carry ons.

There’s not a lot you can do at the gate as a passenger, and taking matters into your own hands can be risky – causing you to get booted from a flight, and possibly even banned from the airline (especially if an employee documents stylized facts about the incident).

Ultimately it is the airline that sets the rules, trains its employees (or fails to), and creates the incentives for how those employees enforce rules. They need to do better with carry on bags generally, clearly with breast milk, but more generally viewing themselves (and therefore their employees) as being in a customer service business finding solutions to customer problems rather than creating them.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This sort of nonsense will continue so long as the incentives are all toward deny, Nothing happens to the GA who errs on the side of checking. Unless they get shamed nothing happens to the airline. We need to penalize the airline for clearly improper cases, especially involving medical stuff.

  2. Shame on American Airlines for employing such a poorly trained, condescending gate agent. They should have to pay significant cash compensation.

  3. This is one of many reasons I support frivolous lawsuits against airlines. Also, nobody stepped in because if you do that ends the trip for you. Same with FAs. Eyes forward, don’t interact with airline personnel unless absolutely necessary, and even when they are wrong you’ve just agree and take the abuse. And avoid the trashy ULCCs like Spirit, Frontier and American.

  4. That gate agent should not only be fired but we should make this sort of thing illegal and she should go to jail. I’m just

  5. I always say ten percent of cabin staff are sociopathic sadists looking for a fight, and a passenger should not seek contact with an FA until observation suggests he or she is not in that number.

    With American Airlines the ten percent estimate is perhaps low, and with AA ground staff 20 percent may be more like it. What is wrong with these cruel and broken people? Why is there no sanction or penalty, just corporate silence, when they terrorize customers like this?

    And the adjacent passengers in the gatehouse knew they were witnessing an irrational act of pointless sadism, but anyone daring to call this psycho out was bound to be thrown of the flight. The only thing that might work would be 100 customers uniting loudly against the GA, who was clearly a bully / coward at heart, but we don’t see that kind of solidarity much anymore in this every-man-for-himself world.

  6. I do feel bad given the circumstances here, but i am wondering, why did she not check her carry-on bag and count the milk container as her carry-on???

  7. @Zack: Depends what is in the carry-on, like maybe get pumping equipment? And some people just can’t afford an unexpected $40 expense. Or don’t think clearly about their options when under aggressive pressure from someone else.

  8. Let’s question the real issue here — if the son is struggling and needs extra nutrition, how about ‘not’ leaving him? Surely his health is far more important than some trip? I can’t imagine why a mother nursing a child that already has extra needs would contemplate leaving them. It would seem to me that the health and wellbeing of the child with extra needs would be priority. I’m not suggesting bringing an infant on board. How about just not going anywhere and tending to the motherly duties? My thoughts anway.

  9. Dude, stop using those cheesy ai graphics – it is embarrassingly awful, especially when the person has six fingers on a hand

  10. @ChadMC:
    > Let’s question the real issue here — if the son is struggling and needs extra nutrition, how about ‘not’ leaving him?

    So she’s supposed to give up her job when there was a perfectly good solution? Pumping is a nuisance but it works. The baby will get the same amount of food. This is 100% on the airline.

  11. ChadMC comments are uncalled for. Read the article ChadMC. It clearly states she was gone for work not pleasure. She was not asking for special accommodations. She was asking the airline agent follow its company’s rules which she relied on. ChadMC you may not be aware that creating milk is an act that is limited by nature whether it be a human being or an animal. Her production is essential for her son. She can’t afford to throw it away… EVEN if her son was not sick and SHE CHOSE to pump the milk to save it to give it to her son at another time, this was a permissible act she could do according to the airlines rules. I can share with you ChadMC that pumping milk and creating it is NOT ENJOYABLE and is ONE more THING to carry with her. She gets to make that decision to PUMP or stay home. What she required is very easy to do have accommodated. Luggage – this can easily be resolved IF all airlines allowed 1 check in bag versus trying to nickel and dime people. It is a very easy solution. A large % of the population can easily fly with 1 check in bag. This whole ordeal of bags has become an issue over the last decade when airlines started charging check in fess. Also, the more bags that are checked in the faster the plane boards/de-boards.

  12. It’s not clear from the article but my guess is that the mom ran afoul of the two item maximum if she had a cooler, a purse and a carry-on. AA agents are notorious for making people consolidate and unless AA’s own rules allow a third item then she was probably being injudicious in the application of rules.

  13. @chadmc RE: “How about just not going anywhere and tending to the motherly duties?”

    She apparently has a job and is also a mother. The airline was wrong. That’s the “real issue.”

  14. This happened to my wife and me on a flight from LHR to DFW on AA. At the time you were permitted to pack the milk with dry ice in a styrofoam container with proper labeling. The ticket agent told us it was fine for carry on. At security we were told to check the cooler. We went back to the check-in counter and were told by the ticket agent it couldn’t be checked despite the airline’s policy (which we had printed off for them) clearly stating this was allowed. We had also previously called to verify the rules applied to travel from LHR. Finally, after nearly a half hour of discussions, they agreed to check the cooler. Then it was back to the line at security.

    This entire ordeal cost us over an hour before getting to security so by the time we got through, we were running to the gate. We were the last to board the plane and then the plane didn’t move for 10-15 minutes. Finally, the first class purser came back to us because the captain wanted to know why we were flying with breast milk and no baby. We explained how we took a trip without our child and my wife needed to keep pumping to have supply upon return but also to keep everything going. She said the pilot didn’t believe it was milk because we had no baby with us and wanted to see a physical baby in order to let the milk come with us. She understood but said he didn’t get it. She finally was able to convince the pilot that the was a legitimate situation after a long series of trips back to the cabin. He actually came back to verify for himself.

    By this time, my wife was in tears as well. Embarrassed about the repeated discussions of breast milk, the demands to see the baby, and the overall frustration.

    We were finally able to take off and the milk got home safely. But American’s response afterwards was a generic note about working to improve operations.

  15. Did she have a basic economy ticket?

    The policy is poorly worded, but because a cooler is not considered medical equipment, I have seen agents enforce the policy such that a cooler is not allowed as a 3rd item for basic economy.

  16. To resolve this needless blinking red light highlighting gate agent vs. check-in agent knowledge of airline/FAA rules, suggest computer screens be installed-and maintained-by the airline at their check-in counter and gates listing all the particular rules to stop this nonsense.

    Part of the solution is to pick the right airline, certainly not AA more concerned with on-time departure statistics than comfortable seats and space, as well as edible meals. Amazing how unlike AA, DL has the good fortune to select normal people to interact in the public. And the foreign carriers excel in public service. Free of the limitations of mileage programs, I now pick my airline flight based upon the personal characteristics of the carrier, especially since I only fly FC/BC: seat comfort; food quality; outgoing attitude of FAs (typically not a typical “union). mentality”).

    This pathetic story reminds me of George C. Scott as the chief physician in “The Hospital” yelling at his overwhelmed chief of nursing, “where do you train your nurses, Dachau?”

  17. I am just waiting for SAS to do this to someone carrying breast milk while flying on an SAS economy class “GoLight” ticket since those have no cabin baggage allowance and a litany of SAS gate agents say there is nothing they can do about it even 10-40 minutes before boarding commences.

    AA generally is nowhere close to as crazy as SAS, given SAS’s cabin baggage ban applicable to “GoLight” economy class.

  18. Let’s not have any carryon rules. The first 10 on can use all the overhead bins. Then we will see how many pax are crying.

  19. Not an isolated issue. American needs to wake up its gate agents as its repeated meanness and abuse of nursing mothers is a major issue … and repeated time and time again

  20. Refusing to consult universally applicable written rules and insisting on going by what you’ve “heard” or arguing whose feelings are more important in any given situation is a classic trait of low-IQ individuals and certain dysfunctional subcultures. If you’re going to hire these people then you need to train them out of their horrible attitudes.

  21. Ron Mexico,

    You described well a lot of Lord Trump worshippers who still believe “satanic” Democrats “stole” the 2020 election and that the Trump insurrectionists raid on the US Capitol were done by the “deep state” opponents of Trump and not by their fellow travelers.

  22. FAA Requirement is 1 carryon bag and 1 personal item that fits under the seat in front of you. Passenger could have checked her carryon bag and then taken her Breast milk with her my assumption is that she did not want to do either. Trust me the gate agents and the managers don’t care as much as you think about the small extra bag you have. But the FAA will have a finding when they try to fine us. maybe talk to your politicians to make a small bag with breastmilk exempt similar to portable pap-machines.

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