Shelby Angel, a California resident, refused to cover her baby with a blanket whilst breastfeeding after a KLM attendant asked her to on her flight from San Francisco to Amsterdam. This incident has led to a storm of protest in the last month, and rightly so.
Angel posted about the incident on Facebook on July 14th, issuing a warning to all nursing moms exclaiming “do NOT fly with KLM!” She went on to explain how she felt extremely uncomfortable and disrespected by the flight attendant when she was already being discrete, and no one had actually complained.
“Breastfeeding is permitted at KLM flights. However, to ensure that all our passengers of all backgrounds feel comfortable on board, we may request a mother to cover herself while breastfeeding, should other passengers be offended by this.”
To the concerned responders, who are completely behind Shelby Angel, they claimed to be in absolute support of breastfeeding on their flights, passing off their actions as an option “to the mums to ensure some privacy when feeding their child.” This hasn’t seemed to resolve many views that this is looking to be more of a misogynistic excuse, that the ‘normal’ response to a breastfeeding woman is to cover her before someone complains.
The 1.7 thousand comments on her Facebook post are filled with outrage. KLM’s statement justifying their accommodation to “passengers of all backgrounds” received particular backlash, especially the need “to be respectful of people of other cultures”. Many commenters have pointed out that breastfeeding in every major religion is actually well encouraged, including Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam.
Facebook commenter Jenna Laird highlighted the absurdity in her response, comparing the incident to dietary preferences of those of “all backgrounds”:
“What’s next for #KLM.... They will no doubt ask all the #meateaters #vegans #vegetarians to eat with a blanket over their head so as not to infringe on other passengers culture/beliefs 🤔!! Well done Shelby for protecting the rights of our little ones! #probreastfeeding”
A woman who is breastfeeding never needs to be covered up, and the sooner companies like KLM join the 21st century the better. Whereas right now, the only thing they seem to be respecting is their need to cover up anything they don’t approve of.
We stand by Shelby, and her right to feed her baby. Practically every country in the world recognizes that breastfeeding in public is a normal, healthy thing for both mother and baby. Yet women are still being targeted for exercising their rights, why?!
And Shelby is not alone, countless moms have had similar experiences - and we are only aware of those who speak up about their unfair treatment. In 2015 one mom, Kristen Hilderman, had a very similar confrontation on a United flight from Houston to Vancouver. She tweeted:
"A male flight attendant named Keith walked up to our row and said to my husband (loudly, so that everyone around could here ), 'Are you two together?'”
When her husband said yes, the flight attendant "tossed a blanket at him ... and said tersely, 'Then HERE, help her out.'"
She said passengers on the flight were supportive of her, saying they weren’t even aware she was nursing until she was singled out unnecessarily. But in the four years since Hilderman’s experience, it doesn’t seem like much has changed in the treatment of nursing moms by flight attendants.
We need change. Companies need to be called out, staff members need to be educated and taught how to handle complaints - that doesn’t directly see the mother as the bad guy!
What most don’t realize is that cabin pressure makes an adult uncomfortable enough, but you can suck on a candy or sip a drink to relieve the intense pressure. For an infant, the solution is breast or bottle. And are you going to blame moms for choosing the easier option of breastfeeding? We’ve all tried to get through security with shampoo! We would much rather sit next to a mother breastfeeding her child rather than a baby wailing from the distress of the flight. And if a mom wants a blanket, she will ask for one.
Women who have received similar treatment, like Angel and Hilderman’s, highlight how important it is for women to know their rights, as well as encouraging advocates to stand up and create awareness in support of moms and their babies.
What are your thoughts about Shelby Angel’s case? Join our discussion on our social media at @lactlscreens or follow #lactl, and open up the conversation in the comments below.