I am typing this from the airplane as I return to Seattle from San Antonio (after a stop in Dallas). I have had negative experiences in the past with Dallas’ airport, but I figured that a stop there was better than having to transfer to another plane. Dallas did not fail to incite my frustration, and now I compose this blog post to honor the airport’s not-so-outstanding customer service efforts.
After the flight landed in Dallas, I opted to leave the plane (with my carry-on bags) in order to locate either a lactation room or a family bathroom. I have a five month old baby at home. The Seattle-Tacoma airport, to its great credit, has spoiled me with a children’s play area and adjoining “mother’s room.” Prior to leaving Seattle on this trip, I was able to use this room just before boarding the airplane, and the seven hours of travel did not seem as bad (four hours to Houston, hour layover, 45 minute flight to San Antonio, and a cab ride to the hotel). In anticipation of a four hour flight from Dallas to Seattle, I thought it was a reasonable plan.
We landed at the A terminal. I spent almost ten minutes searching for a family bathroom or “mother’s room.” All I found was a large restroom with multiple stalls and busy traffic in and out. No good. I asked an American Airlines rep where the nearest family bathroom or lactation room was (I used the words “lactation room” to illustrate why I needed some degree of privacy). She informed me there was no such place in the A terminal, but to go to the C terminal. I carted my bags to the C terminal (a nice hike), and found the family bathroom with the sign on its door: “Closed for Renovation.” Hmmm…that’s frustrating.
I asked another American Airlines rep the same question, and she suggested (I am not fabricating this) that I try the A terminal. When I explained that I had just been there and was told there was no family bathroom there, she said, “Oh, maybe there isn’t one there then.” My frustration was peaking when I noticed the American Airlines Special Travelers office, and I thought: Maybe I’m a special traveler. I have a special need, right? A need that many, many, MANY women have at some point during their lives. This is not unheard of.
I asked the woman at the desk the same question. She told me she didn’t know where a family bathroom or a lactation room was. I then clarified: “Do you have a private bathroom with an electrical outlet that I can use?” There was a children’s play area behind her (completely empty – not a soul there) with an attached family bathroom. She took me around the corner to a small bathroom. I waited for the occupant to exit, and once she did, I entered, only to find the lack of an electrical outlet. I returned to the desk and relayed this information to her. She said, “We don’t have anything then.” I asked specifically about the family bathroom behind her. She replied (again, this is what she actually said): “That’s an area for kids and families so you can’t use that.” When I told her there were, in fact, no kids and families back there, and I was trying to take care of a need for a baby at home, she told me again I could not use it. She then explained that there was a bathroom in the area for people staying overnight with them, but I could not use that either. So basically – nada.
So that was it – I returned to terminal A, reboarded the plane, and that was that.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding. The benefits at this point are not disputed, even by companies who produce formula. It is good for babies. It benefits the mother as well, not just financially and emotionally but physically (lower risk of developing breast cancer). All we need is one small room with an electrical outlet. While pumping in the bathroom is kind of gross, I sought anything. Had I been in Seattle perhaps I would have thrown my jacket over my front and pumped at the gate. However, because I was in Texas (whether this is rational or not) I did not want to be arrested should one of the other passengers or employees decide he/she was uncomfortable with this.
I’m sure the city of Dallas does not care that I will not fly through its airport again. I’m even more sure that American Airlines would remain indifferent to my dilemma, even if I wrote to the CEO (which I am contemplating). But it makes me feel better to write about it anyway, because I think the more that is out there about this topic, the better in the long run. Hopefully by the time my five month old daughter has children, she will be able to find at least a dark storage closet to pump milk for her baby, should she choose to do so.