Breast-Feeding Controversy: Airline Passenger Kicked Off Plane for Nursing

An October 13 incident on a Delta Airlines flight has sparked a growing controversy over the appropriateness of breast-feeding on commercial flights. Twenty-seven-year-old New Mexico resident Emily Gillette has filed a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission against Delta and against Freedom Airlines, who operated the Delta flight from Burlington, Vt., to New York City.

In what may prove to be a widespread show of support, nursing mothers and other advocates of public breast-feeding are planning a series of “nurse-ins” to take place tomorrow in roughly a dozen domestic airports. Similar protests have already taken place at Burlington International Airport in defense of Gillette and of nursing mothers in general. Not only is breast-feeding natural and healthy for babies, say advocates, it’s also an effective way to keep a child’s noise level down during the flight experience.

Gillette was asked to leave her plane after refusing to cover herself up with a blanket while breast-feeding her 22-month-old daughter. The flight attendant who kicked her off has been disciplined by Freedom Airlines. Originally, Freedom Airlines spokesperson Paul Skellon defended the flight attendant’s actions, saying, “A breast-feeding mother is perfectly acceptable on an aircraft, providing she is feeding the child in a discreet way. She was asked to use a blanket just to provide a little more discretion, she was given a blanket, and she refused to use it, and that’s all I know.”

However, in announcing the unspecified disciplinary action, Skellon said, “We concluded that the flight attendant in question acted contrary to the company’s expectations. We believe our disciplinary action was appropriate and was taken after considering all of the facts leading to this incident.”

In the wake of Gillette’s complaint to the Vermont Human Rights Commission, Delta and Freedom have six months to reach a settlement with the complainant. If they fail to reach a settlement, it is up to the Commission to decide whether the case should be referred to the court system.

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