A good breastfeeding policy should reflect the laws and codes already in place. The best policies begin by recognizing the right of a nursing mother to feed her baby in public.
A nursing mother should never be asked to:
- stop breastfeeding
- relocate in order to breastfeed
- cover up while breastfeeding
While the comfort of every passenger on a flight is important for airlines to address, it is even more important to recognize that breastfeeding is not indecent and is a globally recognized human right. Airline staff, especially flight crews, should be trained to respond to customers who might complain about a nursing mother by:
- explaining that the airline is a family-friendly business that supports breastfeeding mothers
- demonstrating a knowledge of the breastfeeding laws customary to the countries in which the airline operates. For example, in Canada a flight attendant could respond by saying, “The right to breastfeed undisturbed in a public place is supported by the Human Rights Commission. Breastfeeding mothers cannot be asked to cover up or to move to another area.”
- If possible, the flight attendant could discreetly move the complaining passenger to another seat.
Women who travel with their nurslings want to be treated with the same respect and dignity as everyone else. They do not expect special treatment beyond the accommodation of the special needs of their children. If an airline wanted to provide excellent customer service to a nursing mother, their flight attendants could:
- provide water when they see a mother is nursing her child
- have extra pillows or blankets available for breastfeeding passengers to use to properly and comfortably position the baby
- allow nursing or pumping women to access empty rows, if they wish, for comfort or privacy
- provide extra ice for mothers who are traveling with expressed milk
Flight crews should never ask a breastfeeding woman to:
- cover up while nursing
- relocate while nursing
- use the lavatory to nurse her child
- stop breastfeeding
- use “discretion” while nursing
The obvious exception would be in cases of an emergency, when the flight crew are obligated to instruct passengers on how to protect life and limb, which may include telling a nursing mother to stop breastfeeding.
Current airline breastfeeding policies
NursingInPublic.com has collected breastfeeding policies from a number of airlines expressed in their own words, either on their websites or as provided by company spokespeople. If you would like to add or update a documented breastfeeding policy for any airline, send an email to [email protected]
Airlines with excellent Breastfeeding Policies
“Alaska Airlines indeed supports nursing babies and mothers and we are especially sensitive to their needs onboard. In fact, how to support nursing moms is a part of our flight attendant training program, and we have a section our flight attendant procedures explaining the rights of nursing mothers and giving our flight attendant’s tips on how to be helpful and support moms. If a nursing mom is harassed by another passenger, our flight attendants would discretely offer to move the objecting customer to another seat. Our policy in support of breastfeeding mothers prohibits our employees from asking a mother to “cover up”, which is a right that is protected. We don’t treat breastfeeding mothers different from any other passenger. They may chose whatever seat they like, although FAA policy prevents young children from being seated in an emergency exit row.”
Spokesperson, Alaska Airlines
Jet Blue Airlines
“Nursing mothers wishing to breastfeed their infants have the right to do so in any public accommodation including the aircraft cabin. If we should encounter a situation onboard where another customer is uncomfortable with a nursing mother, the uncomfortable customer should be reseated, and we ask parents with any questions or concerns to ask one of our inflight crewmembers. The nursing mom may not be reseated unless she requests to do so. Inflight crewmembers should not suggest to the nursing mother that she use a blanket to cover-up or lavatory for breastfeeding purposes.”
Spokesperson, Jet Blue Airlines
“Mothers wishing to nurse their infants have the right to do so in any public place, including the aircraft cabin. If a passenger expresses discomfort with a nursing mother, the flight attendant will re-accommodate the uncomfortable passenger to another seat, if possible. The nursing mother does not need to be re-accommodated unless she requests to do so. It is unacceptable to suggest that a mother use a blanket to cover-up or move to the lavatory to nurse.”
Media Relations, WestJet
Airlines with poor (and/or unofficial) Breastfeeding Policies
“We do not have a formal policy but we really don’t have a problem with breastfeeding on the plane. In fact, it happens all the time! Our cabin attendants are trained to be respectful and anticipate the needs of all our customers including breastfeeding mothers. We have never had an issue with breastfeeding. We have never had an incident or a complaint regarding breastfeeding on the plane. A window seat is recommended not only for privacy should the customer wish but for comfort as the customer can lean against the wall in a comfortable position or if there happens to be an empty row-they are more than welcome to use that row.”
Communications and Media relations Advisor, Air Transat
“Breastfeeding of infants is permitted during all phases of flight on American Airlines. Our inflight procedures advise our crew to ensure that breastfeeding mothers have the privacy they need, while ensuring that other passengers are not subjected to an uncomfortable situation.”
Media Relations, American Airlines
“We do not have an official policy on breastfeeding onboard the aircraft…Mothers traveling on Southwest Airlines who wish to breastfeed their infants are definitely welcome to do so! We just ask that nursing mothers use good judgment and exercise discretion, keeping in mind other Customers who depend on us to provide a comfortable travel experience. We suggest that mothers who plan on breastfeeding carry a small blanket or jacket to protect their privacy.
Our Flight Crews are trained in respecting the rights of ALL Customers onboard the aircraft. One of the main tenets of working at Southwest Airlines is to simply follow the Golden Rule. Our Flight Crews put this into practice every single day.
The best course of action for any type of harassment onboard the aircraft would be to notify the Flight Crew. They can help relocate passengers to other seats or help mitigate any uncomfortable situation.
Onboard the aircraft we ask that all Customers follow the directions and instructions of the Flight Crew. We have hundreds of moms that travel on Southwest Airlines every day that breastfeed, and it is typically a non-event for everyone onboard the flight. Many of our Flight Attendants will offer moms space in the back galley area of the aircraft (once the fasten seatbelt sign is off) to offer additional privacy, if the mom prefers.”
Spokesperson, Southwest Airlines
Air New Zealand
“In regards to your email below, basically our attitude is that Air New Zealand works hard to ensure that every customer traveling with us has a comfortable and enjoyable journey. Rather than having policies to cover every possible on board scenario at Air New Zealand we empower our crew to use their common sense and judgement to do their best to accommodate the individual needs and preferences of all passengers’ within the confines of the aircraft environment – including those of nursing mothers and the passengers around them.”
PR & Social Media Manager, the Americas, Air New Zealand