Fourteen Democratic senators are asking the Transportation Security Administration to clarify its policy on flying with breast milk and formula following reports that the rules have been implemented unevenly. In a letter first shared with The 19th, senators are asking for answers after parents reported spoiled breast milk and public harassment.
Formula and breast milk are exempt from the TSA’s liquids rule, allowing parents to bring more than 3.4 ounces with them in their carry-on luggage, as well as ice packs and other needed items to keep the milk from spoiling. But news reports in recent years have found that the TSA agents have not always allowed parents to pass security checkpoints with breast milk or ice packs.
The letter, led by Sens. Mazie Hirono and Tammy Duckworth, calls on the TSA to address its uneven implementation of the rule, clarify how cooling packs can be used and produce a plan investigating instances when its policies may be mishandled. It also asks the agency to detail how it will train agents and inform the public about the policy. Senators asked the TSA to reply to their requests by June 30.
“We need to understand why the TSA’s policies are not being implemented properly, ensure that policies are clear and women can travel safely without fear of harassment, and provide parents access to remedies for mistreatment,” the senators wrote.
The issue is one of health and safety: Nursing parents typically need to express milk every two to four hours. Failing to pump could have health consequences for the parent, leading to extreme discomfort, pain, plugged milk ducts or a bacterial infection called mastitis. The milk also needs to be refrigerated within four hours to avoid adverse health effects for the baby which could include vomiting, fever and diarrhea.
All of that is even more critical now as a nationwide formula shortage continues. It will likely be months before formula stock returns to normal levels in the United States after a major plant closure in February set off massive shortages that have cut into as much as 90 percent of stock in some states. Parents across the country have reported doing all they can to preserve what formula they do have to help weather the shortage, including turning to breastfeeding and being diligent about how much formula they mix.
Cases of the TSA mishandling its breast milk and formula policy have surfaced for years, but a May incident with Emily Calandrelli, the host of a Netflix science show for kids called “Emily’s Wonder Lab,” has also helped bring a recent wave of attention to the issue.
In early May, Calandrelli, who was breastfeeding her 10-week-old son, said she was traveling through Los Angeles International Airport for a two-day work trip with her pump and two ice packs when she was stopped by two men TSA agents who told her she couldn’t bring her ice packs through because they weren’t frozen solid. According to TSA guidelines, ice packs, freeze packs, frozen gel packs and anything else needed to cool breast milk can pass through TSA even if they are partially frozen or slushy.
Calandrelli said that another agent told her it would not have been a problem if she had breast milk on her at the time or if her child was with her, which goes against TSA guidance. Calandrelli was set to board a five-hour flight to Washington, D.C., and was planning to pump before she boarded. She was ultimately escorted out of the line and asked to throw out the packs or check them with her luggage. She was unable to pump ahead of the flight.
Calandrelli’s tweets about the incident went viral, drumming up support from parents who expressed facing similar issues with the agency. The TSA later said the incident did “not meet their standards” and promised to improve training around breastfeeding and formula protocols.
“It’s yet another system in place that makes it harder for women to get back to work after they’ve started a family,” Calandrelli said on Twitter. “The lack of training at TSA is unfairly punishing and harming women.”
Last week, Duckworth also tweeted her support for Calandrelli. “Too often I hear stories like this — of new moms and Americans with disabilities — being treated inappropriately by TSA employees,” she said. The senator also met with TSA Administrator David Pekoske on the issue last week.
“I won’t let up on this,” Duckworth said.