KLM Under Fire For Telling Breastfeeding Woman To Cover Up

KLM has found itself under fire over its policy of asking women to cover up whilst breastfeeding on board its planes. The policy has been highlighted in recent days after a Facebook post by a mother who was requested to cover her daughter with a blanket whilst breastfeeding. Rather than viewing it as a gaffe by a flight attendant, KLM has backed its employee and is now facing a withering backlash in both mainstream and social media.

KLM asked a woman to cover her infant whilst breastfeeding her. Photo: Nicky Boogaard via Flickr.

What happened?

A month ago, a passenger calling herself Shelby Angel was flying from San Francisco to Amsterdam on KLM with her one-year-old daughter. After starting to breastfeed, Ms Angel was approached by a flight attendant with a blanket who said, “if you want to continue doing the breastfeeding, you need to cover yourself.” Ms Angel declined, noting her daughter did not like to be covered while feeding.

Ms Angel was then told that if any passengers complained, it would be her issue to deal with. No-one complained.

Ms Angel goes to say that she and her daughter have taken several flights together. Until the flight attendant raised the issue, breastfeeding on board had never been a problem. Ms Angel says she always tries to be discreet when breastfeeding her daughter. She notes the flight attendant’s reaction to her breastfeeding made her feel “uncomfortable and disrespected”.

After arriving in Amsterdam, Ms Angel followed up with an official complaint to KLM

KLM puts foot in mouth

KLM’s response has not won the airline many friends. Sky News is reporting that KLM told Ms Angel the Flight Attendant’s request was in line with company policy. KLM said,

“We would like to emphasise that breastfeeding is permitted on KLM flights.”

Which is mighty gracious of KLM.

But according to the carrier, “we strive to ensure that all of our passengers of all backgrounds feel comfortable on-board … therefore, we may request a mother to cover herself while breastfeeding, should other passengers be offended by this.”

KLM wants you to cover that child. Photo: Thomas Widmann via Flickr.

Given that almost all of us were breastfed in infancy and half the world’s population has breasts, it seems incongruous that people should be offended by the sight of a breastfeeding baby.

But KLM is looking out for those that are. 

KLM’s response has provoked a storm of criticism. Advocacy group Equality Now’s Niki Kandirikirira told Reuters that;

“Breastfeeding is a totally natural process and women should have the freedom to do it wherever and whenever they want, rather than being forced to hide as if they are doing something inappropriate.”

Better Breastfeeding’s Ayala Ochert said to Reuters that while a minority of people from a minority of countries might be offended by the sight of a woman breastfeeding, pretty much everyone else is fine with it and KLM is out of step with general social norms and conventions.

Ms Ochert told Reuters,

“In their effort to avoid offence in the tiny minority of people disturbed by the sight of a child feeding, KLM has instead chosen to offend a mother trying to feed and nurture her child.”

One might also assume that the crowd in the cabin of an international airline on an international flight are cosmopolitan and sophisticated enough to handle the sight of a breastfeeding mother, no matter where you happen to come from.

Ms Angel’s posting has received 1,800 responses and 1,300 comments. That figure is likely to rise as the story is picked up by media.

The vast majority of passengers couldn’t care less if a mother breastfed her child. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The responses to Ms Angel’s posting make interesting reading. Says one;

“… perhaps (KLM could) have a blanket ready for the offended party to stick their head under next time rather than trying to cover a baby.”

It is clear commonsense that a mother should feel comfortable breastfeeding wherever she needs to.

There’s a litany of possible etiquette breaches on flights – getting drunk, abusing people, giving yourself a haircut midflight… Or my personal pet hate; people taking their shoes off and resting their smelly feet on a bulkhead or seatback. These are the things that offend other passengers – well, they offend me at least. No one is going to be offended by the sight of a breastfeeding mother on a plane.

Simple Flying reached out to KLM for comment but received no response prior to publication