Not the first time United Airlines has stirred controversy about breastfeeding
By Angela Espinoza, News Editor
BC Business Magazine associate editor Kristen Hilderman caught attention on social media the week of March 9 after one of her Twitter post went viral.
The post describes an experience Hilderman had aboard a March 8 United Airlines flight from Houston. Hilderman recounted that while breastfeeding her five-month-old son, a male flight attendant by the name of “Keith” implied she should cover herself.
In Hilderman’s post, she wrote the attendant called out to her husband and asked, “Are you two together?” When her husband replied “yes,” “the flight attendant tossed a blanket at him … and said tersely, ‘Then here, help her out.’”
Hilderman replied by twice asking, “Help me out with what?” and wrote that the attendant did not reply to her. She further noted that while re-boarding from a stop in Seattle, hers was the only seat on the flight to have a folded blanket on it.
The post has been shared over 2,000 times as of March 14, and Hilderman has publicly replied with updates from United Airlines and the statement, “It’s been an overwhelming few days, but I’m glad we’re all discussing breastfeeding rights.”
CBC shared one response from United Airlines’, which stated, “United welcomes nursing mothers on board and we ask that crew members do their best to ensure their comfort and safety as they do with all customers.”
However, CBC reported that Hilderman is hoping to see the flight attendant who offended her “reprimanded,” as Hilderman felt “embarrassed” and “frustrated” by the experience.
Hilderman has since spoken with a number of media outlets about the incident.
The Huffington Post reported that United Airlines had a similar incident made public in 2006, when another flight attendant asked a passenger to cover herself while breastfeeding because they were “concerned” about how the act affected other passengers. In a 2006 post on the website ParentDish.com, the attendant reportedly asked the mother to wait until they’d landed to feed her child, and again offered her a blanket if waiting was not possible.
Huffington Post also shared a story from 2013 in regards to an American Airlines incident, in which a mother stated a flight attendant shook her head while the mother fed her child, and was told to cover herself since children were on board.
In an interview on March 11 with the Vancouver Sun, Hilderman stated, “I really didn’t think it was going to blow up like this.
“I asked United what the follow-up would be and how they would handle it with the flight attendant and how they would handle it companywide, but I don’t think they understood that this was turning into a big deal.”
Vancouver Sun also noted that airlines often have policies specific to breastfeeding, and that one of WestJet’s policies is that if a passenger is uncomfortable with the act of breastfeeding in a public space, it is the flight attendants’ duty to move the passenger elsewhere.