Plugging in breast pump on Air Transat flight against rules

Daily Brew

[Plugging in breast pumps is apparently against Air Transat protocol as one Toronto woman learned during a recent Toronto-London flight. TIME]

A Toronto woman’s dispute with Air Transat over the airline’s refusal to allow her to plug in her breast pump on a flight highlights some of the difficulties nursing mothers often have while flying.

Elizabeth Arnold was travelling without her children and the Canadian discount carrier refused to allow her to use an outlet for the breast pump in order to express milk while flying from Toronto to London, the Toronto Star reports.

Air Transat representatives told the newspaper that manufacturer guidelines for the aircraft restrict use of the outlets to cellphone and tablet chargers, and its staff members were simply following those guidelines. 

If a nursing parent doesn’t express milk regularly — either by breastfeeding, manual hand expression or pumping with an electric or manual breast pump — it can lead to milk leakage, painful engorgement and in rarer cases a blocked milk duct or mastitis, an infection of the milk duct.

In recent years several women have reported issues with North American airlines around their needs as breastfeeding mothers. In 2013 an American woman said she wasn’t allowed to use a breast pump on an American Airlines flight. And last year another woman said an attendant with the same airline reprimanded her for pumping milk in an airplane bathroom. 

The rules for in-flight pumping, and the availability of outlets at all, seem to vary across Canadian carriers. Air Transat’s website says that medical equipment required on a flight must be equipped with an independent power source like batteries. 

In a 2013 tweet Air Canada told a customer via Twitter that as long as an electric breast pump fit within the general carry-on guidelines, there were no restrictions to its use on a flight. Several of the aircraft models used by the carrier have in-seat outlets that can handle a maximum of 110 volts. Many popular breast-pump models use 9V or 12V adapters.

Passengers are welcome to use electric breast pumps on planes where electric outlets are available at the seat, a WestJet spokeswoman tells Yahoo Canada News by email.

“WestJet fully supports a mother’s right and choice to breastfeed or pump on board any WestJet or WestJet Encore flight,” says Lauren Stewart.

Passengers should check to make sure their equipment meets the airlines outlet and battery guidelines though Stewart says this is generally not an issue as most similar-sized batteries for devices like cellphones, tablets and laptop computers are accepted on board.

Just under 60 per cent of the airline’s 737s and 767s are equipped with outlets and all should be equipped by early 2017, Stewart says. WestJet’s Q400 aircrafts don’t have available outlets.

Porter’s planes don’t have outlets, an airline spokeswoman tells Yahoo Canada News in an email, but passengers are welcome to pump if they have a manual pump or one with its own power supply.

“Passengers are able to use breast pumps with their own power supply, providing they comply with Transport Canada’s Transportation of Dangerous Goods standards,” Robyn van Teunenbroek says. “Passengers may use manual pumps, but they need to be stowed during taxi, take off and landing.”

Representatives from Air Canada and New Leaf were not immediately available for comment.

As well, Canadian federal policy is that travellers can bring formula or breast milk on the plane in quantities above the usual restrictions on liquids, whether or not they are travelling with their child. However, the liquids may have to be presented to security for additional screening.