Breastfeeding Lawyer-Mom Bullied by TSA Agents

Violations of air passengers by TSA seem to be escalating.  Take the story of Stacy Armato, a breastfeeding mother and attorney who takes a weekly plane trip for work. At the time of this incident, she was pumping breastmilk at work for her 7 month old son. On the days she needed to travel for work, she took her breast pump with her to pump her milk and carried that milk back home for her baby.

Jake Aryeh Marcus, a freelance writer, public interest lawyer and expert in breastfeeding law, interviewed Ms. Armato for a post on her blog entitled Just When You Thought it Was Safe to Travel with Breast Milk: The TSA Targets Mothers. In her post, she writes:

When attorney Stacey Armato arrived at the TSA inspection at her usual gate at Phoenix International Airport for her weekly return flight home to Los Angeles on February 1st, she felt a bit of trepidation. The week before she had been held for 40 minutes while TSA staff researched whether she had a right to refuse to allow her pumped breast milk to be x-rayed. She had requested “alternate” screening – something to which she has been entitled since the summer of 2007 when the TSA exempted breast milk from the 3-1-1 rule and reclassified it as a medical liquid. Under current TSA policy, breast milk may be carried on-board in any reasonable quantity, as long as it fits in carry-on luggage, and it can be screened either through the x-ray machine or by hand (the “alternate” screening for medication which may consist of a visual inspection or a wipe of the container’s exterior that supposedly detects explosives).

After her negative experience the previous week, Armato had filed a complaint with the TSA. Now she was about to be screened by the same staff about whom she complained. But she could have no way of knowing what they had in store for her.

After once again asking TSA agents to follow their own procedures for screening of breastmilk, Ms. Armato was held in a glass cage by the TSA for an hour and a half and ended up missing her flight. TSA staff alternated between ignoring her and harassing her during the time they made her wait. The following video, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, was posted to YouTube by Armato’s brother-in-law along with some commentary of what is happening and fast-forwarding of some portions to allow for faster viewing of the time period she was waiting.

Eventually, Ms. Armato was forced by the TSA to take the 12 ounces of breast milk that she had in four 3 ounce containers and separate it into even smaller containers of around 2 ounces each. Once she had done that, she was released, having already missed her flight. The TSA rules do not require breastmilk to be carried in containers of any specific size, neither 3 ounces nor 2 ounces.

As most people probably know, the TSA has ramped up its security screening. There is an excellent description of the situation in the post Groped or Nudie Pics: TSA asks which method you prefer. It describes children being patted down as they scream and beg for it to stop. It includes links to the stories of women, including rape survivors, describing what amounts to a sexual assault as they had their breasts, their buttocks and their labia felt by TSA agents.

 Another post describes a flight attendant and breast cancer survivor being forced to remove her prosthetic breast. All of this is being done in the name of safety. If it were true that it would make us safer, we could have the debate about whether it is worth giving up all personal dignity in order to increase safety. But it isn’t. The TSA hasn’t caught a single terrorist trying to board a plane. There are other methods, like Israel’s, that are considered more effective, more efficient, and less invasive.

A lot of people believe that the TSA guidelines and procedures are scary, unnecessary and abusive. But what is even more outrageous than those policies is the amount of power that TSA agents wield and the frequent absence of knowledge about or complete disregard for their own guidelines and procedures.

By the way, Ms. Armato has filed another complaint with the TSA. This is a clear case of TSA agents abusing their power and not even following their own procedures. All Ms. Armato wanted to do was earn a living and feed her baby. 

Think the new TSA security procedures go too far? Sign the petition.

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Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at the PhD in Parenting blog.

Image taken from YouTube video of TSA incident.

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Sharon Balloch
Sharon Balloch4 years ago

Oh Dear... sounds like my neighbour to the south is starting to goosestep to a different tune. I hear the drums pounding and the jackboots marching..knowing we will not be far behind.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle5 years ago

TSA agents don't earn a lot, so don't attract the highest caliber people. I feel a little sorry that they are taking the brunt of the stupid rules that were put in place.

That said, people with "power" often get "power-hungry", and it seems from the article, that these did. Surely, all agents should know their own rules about breast milk, since they were revised RE: quantities and x-ray techniques. Totally ridiculous that this mother had to go through such extreme measures when she was taking the time to give her baby the best, breast milk.

Amy R.
Amy R.5 years ago

A version of this same thing happened to me this week at the New Orleans airport. I was forced to x-ray my breastmilk and denied the alternate screening for medical liquids. I wrote about it on my blog: anktangle (dot) com

Annie Urban
Annie Urban5 years ago

Madi:

Yes, there are rules in place and the lawyer was well aware of them. Unfortunately, it seems the TSA agents were not aware of them.

Jami Winn
Jami Winn5 years ago

always picking on women especially ones with babies big shocker that it is (sarcasm for those who are to stupid to realize it)

Colleen Maranda
Colleen B.5 years ago

All tedious, low-paying security jobs generally attract individuals with minimal education whose schooling system has probably also done little to foster creative, intelligent thinking. In addition, these roles provide easy opportunity for abusing the power that goes with authority. I'm surprised that, in this case the police officer chose to believe the security staff rather than employing his own objective assessment, which is his professional responsibility.

This is a stark reminder that we need to urgently learn how we can raise our personal "silent" power. I've read, it's the critical factor in all unstable and threatening situations. In other words, "where" you are is irrelevant but "how" you are is everything.