Q. In any earlier interview you said you hadn't received an apology from the TSA but the TSA claims you accepted an apology from it. Did you receive an apology from the TSA?
A. In March of this year, TSA sent me a statement. It stated that they were responding to my report that on “numerous occasions [I was] urged to put the breast milk through the x-ray machine and [was] subjected to additional screening.” They stated that the “screening workforce [had] been briefed regarding this situation.” The letter also stated that it was their “understanding that…the issue has been resolved” and they “extend [their] sincere apologies to [me] for the discomfort and inconvenience [I] experienced during the screening process.” The letter concluded by stating that TSA “appreciate[d] that [I] took the time to share [my] concerns with [them].” Of course, the complaint that I sent over to TSA on 2/2/10 addressed many important issues this letter did not acknowledge at all including being retaliated against, harassed, humiliated, degraded, threatened with arrest, held in security for an hour, among other things. Frankly, I disregarded this letter from TSA in March as a standard form letter they would issue to any complaint and did not view it as an apology for what happened on 2/1/10.
Q. The TSA states in its blog response: "The passenger has flown since these events occurred and has provided TSA a written confirmation that she no longer experiences issues." Is this true?
A. The following week (2/9/10), I was ‘shadowed’ by a TSA authority assigned to me by Phoenix Airport to see what I go through each week. As soon as I asked for an alternate screening, I was told to put the milk through the x-ray machine. The TSA authority had to immediately make herself known to the TSA agent and said to give me an alternate screening. It was clear that any briefing or training that had been done was futile. In the weeks following that, after speaking with a Phoenix TSA customer service manager, I traveled out of a completely different gate. I didn’t experience any more harassment or retaliation thereafter. After a few more weeks, I resumed travel out of my original gate mindful never to encounter the four or five agents I had dealt with on 2/1/10. If there was a choice between two lines, I would pick the one with agents that were not part of the incident. I resumed travel out of my original gate fearful that I would encounter the same agents as on 2/1/10. I literally would start sweating wondering who I would encounter and how I would be treated.
On 4/22/10, after one of the final trips I took with breast milk, I emailed the Phoenix TSA customer service manager. I wanted to make sure he knew that every week since 2/1/10, I had been instructed to place the milk through x-ray and had to ask again for an alternate screening…every single time. I brought this to his attention so he knew the agents still had no knowledge or, possibly, no regard for the breast milk screening rules. The response back to me was they were okay with that so long as, at some point, the agents remembered that my request [for alternate screening] was allowed.
Q. How do you think the TSA should have responded to your complaint and how did its response fall short?
A. My attorneys have advised this I do not address specifically how the TSA should have responded. It may jeopardize my current tort claim against them, especially if they try to limit my relief to what I put in this response. After we exhaust all administrative remedies, we will file a lawsuit in federal court that addresses exactly what should have been done by the TSA.
What do you think about how the TSA has responded to Stacey Armato? Is the TSA "apology" and a "refresher" to TSA staff enough?
We extend our sincere apologies to any passenger who may have experienced discomfort and inconvenience during the screening process.
So is this directed at Stacey Armato whose video is being discussed or just airline passengers generally? And if they are talking about Armato, are they saying she may have experienced discomfort and inconvenience? Are we really in doubt on this point?
Well, actually maybe not. The TSA Blog's "Blogger Bob" also writes:
We acknowledge this particular passenger experienced an out of the ordinary delay, and have worked with our officers to ensure we proceed with expediency in screening situations similar to this.
So the TSA acknowledges something happened that should not have happened. And what do they tell us about what happened to the agents involved?
After the investigation, the officers received refresher training for the visual inspection of breast milk (an infrequently requested procedure).
Really?? How about a refresher course on retaliation and false imprisonment?
There is something Blogger Bob writes that may raises some questions for those of you who have read my previous posts about Stacey Armato's visit to the TSA plastic detention booth in Arizona here and here. And that is:
TSA investigated the matter and sent a letter of apology to the passenger in March of this year. The passenger has flown since these events occurred and has provided TSA a written confirmation that she no longer experiences issues.
Armato has said she did not receive an apology, that she continued to see the same crew at the same gate as she made her weekly flight back from Phoenix to L.A., and she is in the process of filing a lawsuit against the TSA for the damages she suffered on February 1st when she was detained. So what does she have to say about the TSA response to her video? Hang in there. Armato's response will be posted here shortly.
Please feel free to leave a comment at The TSA Blog with your feelings about the TSA response to the video in which Armato is detained for asking her pumped breast milk go through "alternate" screening.
And leave a comment here with your thoughts. How do you feel about the TSA response posted on its blog?
Was a "refresher" enough? Should there have been a more severe sanction for the TSA staff? How do you feel about how the TSA is responding to the complaints of flyers?
Take note also that in The TSA Blog post about Armato, there is a link which we are encouraged to use to share our experiences with the TSA. I filed a formal complaint with the TSA on November 22nd after my teenage sons were separated from me without warning while going through a TSA security checkpoint at Logan Airport in Boston. Other than an acknowledgment that my complaint was received, I have received nothing from the TSA in response to my complaint.
So why is the TSA encouraging people to communicate with it if it does not respond meaningfully to complaints?
[UPDATE: Within seconds of publishing this post, I received an email from TSA customer service in Boston restating my complaint and apologizing for any "discomfort." I have replied asking again some more specific questions concerning TSA policy on screening families traveling together. Another post coming on that point.]
According to Armato's complaint filed with the TSA concerning what happened when she presented her pumped breast milk for screening at the Phoenix airport on February 1st:
All the same TSA parties were present from the week before surrounded [stet] me . I was demanding an explanation and wanted to speak with the manager but was refused. I was told to be quiet and do as I was told or I wasn’t going anywhere. I felt like a caged animal, stared at by multiple TSA agents and other travelers. After 15 or 20 minutes, my anger turned to tears. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt harassed, degraded, violated, falsely imprisoned, and retaliated against.
Finally, three Phoenix police department officers came. One … came in to tell me that I needed to calm down or TSA could have me arrested. He instructed me to go through alternate gates for security on my following trips because they seemed to have it out for me. He said these TSA agents saw me coming, remembered me from the week before, and wanted me to play along with their ‘horse and pony’ show or they would have me arrested.
Armato alleges as well:
The incident on February 1, 2010, was an obvious retaliation against me for lodging a complaint with the TSA the previous week. It is absolutely unforgiveable that these TSA agents would hold me like a caged animal in an apparent act to “teach me a lesson.” The TSA agents knowingly, and willfully, disregarded their own rules and regulations. I was placed in a glass enclosure, in full view of all the other passengers. I was continuously yelled at, talked down to, and threatened with arrest if I did not adhere to the TSA agents’ demands. The TSA agents, as well as the TSA itself as employers of these individuals, is liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, battery, assault, trespass to chattel, false imprisonment, and civil harassment, among other causes of action
While news agencies have reported receiving a statement from the TSA claiming that Armato accepted its apology concerning the incident, Armato maintains she has received no apology.
Amato's story and the TSA video of her detention has gotten a great deal of press. Has the TSA's treatment of Armato changed your plans for travel? How do you think you might behave if you were in Armato's position?
Sustainable Mothering will continue to present the latest on this case, as well as other incidents involving the TSA that impact parents. Stay tuned.
After her negative experience the previous week, Armato had filed a complaint with the TSA. Now she was about to be screened by the same staff about whom she complained. But she could have no way of knowing what they had in store for her.
When Armato asked once again to have her breast milk (which she was bringing home to her 7 month old son) screened without an x-ray, she was held in custody by TSA for an hour. She was given no explanation. She never knew how long she would be held. As her flight left without her, she stood trapped in a plastic box weeping while her pumped milk – now out of its cooler – was played with by TSA staffed. Seriously, watch the TSA staffer in the foreground of the video below. She picks up, puts down and tosses about the containers of milk as if they are toys.
Below is a YouTube video made by Armato's brother-in-law. The footage presented in this video was obtained by Armato through a Freedom of Information Act request and is the official recording made by the TSA. However, approximately 20 minutes of video – what happened after what you can see here – was destroyed by TSA as not relevant to her complaint.
If you would like to see all of the video Armato obtained without being sped up as it is below and without the graphic commentary, you can see it here, here, here, and here.
So let's take a break right here and give Armato a hand. This mother returned to full-time work outside the home 13 weeks after her first son was born. Her son was fed exclusively with breast milk despite her work requiring she travel from Los Angeles to Phoenix once every week. She flew early morning and return in the afternoon, pumping approximately 12 ounces of breast milk during the day. It was this milk she was trying to bring home to her son.
Since this YouTube video went viral last week, many have asked whether she filed a complaint with the TSA about her treatment. The answer is "yes," however to her knowledge nothing was done to discipline the TSA staff involved in this incident. Armato has taken this same flight many times since February and she has seen all of the TSA staff members at work. Armato has yet to find an attorney willing to represent her in a lawsuit against the TSA.
So what happened in the twenty odd minutes after this video ends? Armato was forced by TSA staff to divide her breast milk into more containers. Yeah, that's right. Armato had 12 ounces of breast milk in four 3 ounce containers despite the fact TSA policy does not require breast milk be carried in 3 ounce containers. After being held in custody for an hour and a half, TSA staff forced her to sit on the floor and pour her breast milk into new containers so that each container held no more than 2 ounces.
Does any TSA policy or regulation require that breast milk be carried in 2 ounces batches? No. There is no explanation for what happened to Stacey Armato other than that she was targeted for harassment by vengeful TSA staffers against whom she had filed a complaint the previous week. And those staffers still work for the TSA. They not only got away with holding Armato hostage, they are free to do the same to you.
What are your thoughts about what happened to Stacey Armato? Have you been harassed while trying to carry breast milk through a TSA checkpoint? During this holiday weekend in the U.S., how are you treated by the TSA as you traveled with your children?
Top Hat over at Its All About the Hat suggested a Breastfeeding Blog Carnival called "This is What a Nursing Toddler Looks Like." [This is my first blog carnival so I will link to the other participants as soon as I figure out the rules of the game - UPDATE: I have added some links at the bottom to other Carnival participants.] Luckily for me, the Carnival theme left a good bit of room for interpretation since I don't currently have a nursing toddler. I have many fond memories of nursing my kids when they were toddlers and so do they. I and they remember how important it was that they could nurse when they were sick or hurt or needed comfort. We nursed when they needed some time with mom. We nursed when they were getting used to sharing mom with a new sibling. We nursed when they were hungry. We nursed to sleep. We nursed standing up and sitting down and in positions I used to call "Olympic Freestyle Nursing."
A nursing toddler can also go hiking and he looks like this:
But with my kids getting older, I am seeing more of what a nursing toddler looks like when he is no longer nursing and is no longer a toddler. That can be someone who really understands how important it is that kids get to nurse and mothers get to nurse their kids. A former nursing toddler isn't fazed by seeing women breastfeed wherever they are.
A few years ago my then 12 year old son saw me helping to organize a nurse-in. I explained that a woman had been quietly nursing her baby on a bench in a shopping mall when a security guard ordered her to stop and move. She refused, saying she needed to finish feeding her son. Soon she was surrounded by security guards who engaged her husband in a shouting match and left the woman terrified. When the mom shared her story and the shopping mall management refused to respond to her complaint about her treatment, a nurse-in was planned.
My son was confused – why would anyone think there was something wrong with a mother feeding her baby? Then he was mad – this was wrong. He asked if he could come to the nurse-in. When he saw me making signs, he asked if he could create one for himself. I told him that we expected press coverage and there was a chance his friends would see a photo of him from the protest. He was adamant that he wanted to be seen.
Back to the Carnival theme – This is What a Nursing Toddler Looks Like. He looks like a proud breastfeeding activist.
UPDATE: Other What Does a Nursing Toddler Looks Like Carnival participants.
Seems odd to me that people are confused about what to do when a woman is breastfeeding her child on an airplane. If you have ever walked on a plane with a small child, you know that look on people's faces – that look that says "please, please don't sit next to me." No one wants to be trapped near a crying, fussing child. Why then would anyone object to anything (safe) that would silence an unhappy child?
I was among many who were shocked in late 2006 when Emily Gillette and her family were thrown off a Delta Airlines flight for refusing to put a blanket over her breastfeeding child's head. While the Gillette case resulted in a multi-city nurse-in and an on-going lawsuit – both of which I have been writing about in Mothering – it also generated lots of negative statements about breastfeeding in public generally and breastfeeding on airplanes specifically.
I was surprised recently (though shouldn't have been) to find that Her Bad Mother, who blogged in September of last year about her experience with a rude flight attendant on WestJet, was still getting comments about her experience – 213 comments at this writing and still coming in. In Under the Blanket, Her Bad Mother blogger Catherine writes about how humiliated she was by a flight attendant pressuring her to cover her breastfeeding child with a blanket and finally throwing the blanket next to her when Catherine refused. It is an eloquent, sad, and truthful post about how vulnerable we are when we are feeding our children. Please go read it.
Most of the many comments to Catherine's blog post are supportive – lots of angry mothers wanting WestJet to apologize for this unacceptable flight attendant. Some of those commenting try to justify the flight attendant – perhaps the flight attendant actually thought she was being helpful, they write. And then there are the other comments. The nasty "I don't want to see your boobs" comments. And there is the response from WestJet which maintained requiring a cover is within the rights of the airline and then announced a change in policy (apparently in response to another well-publicized breastfeeding harassment case on a WestJet flight early last year).
Clearly people need a primer. It isn't a legal analysis – you get enough of that from me. It is a primer about being human. So here it is and I owe it to a woman who sat next to me on an airplane a decade ago.
I was flying alone with my two eldest sons. One was three years old and one was a few months old. Both were breastfeeding. My large infant (ten pounds at birth and much larger at a few months) was in a sling and I walked down the airplane aisle with my toddler holding one hand, dragging a car seat behind me with the other hand, and averting my eyes from all the panicked "please don't sit next to me" looks of my fellow passengers. I had a window seat and I secured the car seat into the middle seat. I knew that both my sons were going to want to nurse at some point during the flight and since each had always steadfastly refused to nurse while the other did, I knew I would need to switch them in and out of the car seat.
When the person assigned to the aisle seat arrived, it was an older woman perhaps in her sixties. She looked at me with my kids and their toys and the sling and the car seat and seemed … well … tense. I had no idea how she would react once the nursing started. No sooner had the doors closed when the boys started racing for my breasts. As soon as one came off the breast, the other wanted to nurse. Whichever boy wasn't nursing was squirming, crying, and tossing toys on the ground I couldn't reach. The woman in the aisle seat looked increasingly uncomfortable. She looked at me, then looked away. Twice it seemed as if she was about to say something and then didn't. I tried to prepare myself for her comment. Completely overwhelmed, I was torn between an indignant reply and just bursting into tears. And then she spoke:
"If it is okay with you, would it help if I held whichever child isn't nursing?"
Fighting back my tears, I said, "Yes! Thank you so much!"
For the next few hours, this wonderful stranger played with whichever child wasn't nursing, cheerfully passed my sons back and forth to me, fetched the toys from the ground. When the flight attendant ignored me, our new friend asked what I needed and set up my water on her tray. At one point, she even stood in the aisle and rocked my chubby baby in her arms. We never talked about breastfeeding or whether she was a mother or a grandmother. I don't think we even exchanged names, though she asked the boys' names so she could chat with them while they played. She saw I needed help and she helped me. I thanked her again and again but she only smiled back at me.
So, whoever you are, the person in the next seat or many rows away, and particularly if you are the flight attendant who is actually being paid to help the passengers, if you see a breastfeeding woman, consider what she needs. A smile might be all. If she is alone, chances are she needs some help managing toys or kid stuff. At the very least, she needs something to drink. If a breastfeeding woman (or anyone traveling with a child) is on a plane with you, help her.
Now, was that so hard? If being the wonderful stranger who sat next to me isn't what you would do, read the primer again. There will be a pop quiz. Mothers who need your help are everywhere. You may need to take the quiz tomorrow.