An Airline Told a Breastfeeding Woman to Cover Up. Social Media Weighed In.


LONDON — The Dutch airline KLM has found itself in the middle of a heated debate over breastfeeding in public, after the company said it might ask women to cover themselves while breastfeeding onboard if other passengers said they were offended.

The issue came to light after Shelby Angel, a woman from Sacramento, Calif., wrote about her experience on a KLM flight this summer in a post on Facebook on Sunday.

“Before we even took off, I was approached by a flight attendant carrying a blanket,” she wrote, saying she was told that if she wanted to breastfeed her 1-year-old daughter, she should cover up. When Ms. Angel refused, she said, the crew member told her that if anyone complained, it would be for Ms. Angel to deal with.

Nobody complained, Ms. Angel said.

As the post spread online, other social media users turned to Twitter to confront the airline. KLM’s response has been consistent: Breastfeeding is allowed onboard as long as no other passengers are offended by the practice.

“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,” the airline wrote in a post on Twitter on Tuesday.

Yet even as the sight of mothers feeding their babies in public places has become more common in the West, women have continued to be shamed and belittled.

Some countries have introduced legal protection for women’s right to breastfeed in public. All 50 states in the United States have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private place. And in Britain, among other countries, it is illegal to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave a public place such as a restaurant or on public transportation.

KLM’s Twitter post on Tuesday drew thousands of responses, many of them stunned and furious, asking the airline to change its policy — or pledging never to fly with the company again.

“Breast feeding is the most natural thing in the world and shouldn’t make anyone of any culture uncomfortable,” Catherine Noone, deputy leader of the Irish Senate, wrote on Wednesday. “Shocking response from KLM.”

“For the comfort of passengers from racist or homophobic backgrounds would they ask people to cover skin and identifiers?” asked Chris van Tulleken, a doctor in London, in a post on Thursday.

Others, like Becca Brettschneider, a nurse from Virginia, called the airline’s approach “not an unreasonable request.”

As questions kept coming in, KLM repeated its message. On Thursday, a spokeswoman did not reply to a request for comment.

Some Twitter users turned to KLM’s competitors to ask about their own breastfeeding policies.

British Airways wrote in a response on Thursday: “We carry thousands of infants and their families on our flights every year, and we welcome breastfeeding on board.”

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