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Woman says she was told not to breastfeed on flight because it would make passengers ‘uncomfortable’

‘Complete discrimination and majorly disappointing,’ mother writes on Facebook

Amber Raiken
New York
Thursday 10 August 2023 14:52 BST
Related: Woman abandons French bulldog ‘in a stroller’ at Pittsburgh airport after being told she can’t bring it on plane without

People are coming to a woman’s defence after she claimed that she was told not to breastfeed on a plane because it would make other travellers “uncomfortable”.

Chelsea Williams took to Facebook on 7 August to describe what she says was her experience with TUI Airways, a British airline owned by the TUI Group. She claimed that while she was in her seat during a recent flight and breastfeeding her child, one of the plane’s crew members told her to stop.

“During our outbound flight I was told I was not allowed to breastfeed (even though we were both buckled) during takeoff and landing,” she wrote. “I have never had this with other airlines, in fact, it is encouraged to help with baby ear pain!”

She then claimed that, after the experience, she was encouraged to reach out to TUI about its travelling regulations. “Before my inbound flight, I thought I’d check what the official rules were as I was shocked it wasn’t allowed as it left my baby screaming as a consequence,” she wrote.

William’s post went on to include the message that her husband, Thomas, sent to TUI, asking if his partner could breastfeed their five-week-old baby while their plane is taking off and landing.

According to the screenshot of the message, TUI then responded by encouraging Thomas’ wife to avoid breastfeeding on the plane, for the sake of other passengers.

“There are no official restrictions, however, we would not recommend it because it could make other people uncomfortable,” the message read.

Williams also added that the response from TUI was “complete discrimination and majorly disappointing”.

Speaking to The Independent, Williams said that while on her first flight with TUI, the airline employee tried to “disguise the airline’s discrimination with the guise of a ‘safety issue’ but later retracted that”.

“The cabin crew member said: ‘You’ll need to stop feeding as it is not permitted on takeoff and landing,’” she explained. “She then said my five-week old had to forward face, I said that she doesn’t have sufficient neck support at that age, which was answered with: ‘Maybe you could just sit her against you facing forward and lean back a bit.’”

She also specified that, despite what TUI had allegedly told her husband in its message, she was able to breastfeed her daughter on her flight back home.

Her Facebook post has since gone viral, with more than 1,200 reactions. In the comments, many people have gone on to defend Williams while criticising TUI for its “damaging” message about mothers breastfeeding in public.

“Oh TUI - it’s damaging comments like this that can deter women from breastfeeding or breastfeeding in public,” one person wrote. “What’s so offensive about feeding a baby and if people are uncomfortable about a baby feeding in the most natural way by milk that is designed for HUMANS then that is their issue not hers or her baby’s fault.”

“If other people are allowed to eat and drink in public then why is breastfeeding our children not allowed. What a disgusting response!!!” another added. “To all the breastfeeding moms out there, keep going. We’ve got this. Screw what other people say and think. Just smile at them and carry on, that will make them uncomfortable!”

“This is absolutely disgraceful!!” a third wrote. “I am flying with TUI next month and have every intention of breastfeeding during take off and landing whether anyone feels ‘uncomfortable’ or not!”

TUI has since responded to the comments on Williams’ post, with the company stating that it is “aware of the situation and are conducting an internal investigation”. TUI also added that “breastfeeding is permitted” on its flights, while the company “advises against it during takeoff and landing for safety reasons”.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their children “during takeoff and landing when travelling by airplane,” as “this will help to protect your child from ear pain due to cabin pressure changes”. The health agency also encourages mothers to feed their children “on demand,” noting that the best way for them to “maintain [their] milk supply is to breastfeed whenever [their] baby is hungry”.

Speaking to Metro, Williams opened up about the breastfeeding incident during her first TUI Airways flight, which was from England to Spain. She said that after she stopped breastfeeding, after the airline employee had asked her to do so, her “baby was obviously crying”.

“Quite drastically because I had cut her feed while she was in the middle of it - and the toddler was crying,” she added, referring to her two-year-old child. “I was sweating, I was on the verge of tears. I felt like everyone’s eyes were on us because obviously the baby was screaming and I obviously looked not great at that moment. The baby’s cries were getting worse – she was obviously in pain, she was obviously hungry as well.”

Williams said that she waited until the seatbelt lights went off to start feeding her baby again.

In a statement toThe Independent, TUI said: “We are really sorry for the distress caused to Ms Williams and her infant. As a family friendly travel company we support breastfeeding on our flights at any time. We will be making sure that all colleagues are retrained on our breastfeeding friendly policy.”

Williams told The Independent that she “had a call with TUI” and talked to the company about some of the changes she hopes to see implemented. “They did sound receptive to some of the points raised, I will continue to push them to ensure these changes are made,” she said.

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