Frontier Airlines Made Me Choose Between Breastfeeding My Daughter or Doing My Job
A flight attendant speaks out about an airline that prohibits employees from breast pumping during 10-hour shifts.
By Jo Roby
May 16, 2017
I have been a flight attendant for 16 years, and I love flying. The thrill of take offs, the turbulence that gives me butterflies in my stomach, the anticipation of visiting new and familiar places. My dad, who was a private pilot, would take me out flying when I was younger, practicing touch-and-go landings and sharing his passion for flight with me. My career has expanded my horizons and brought experiences I could have never imagined. I’ve seen panoramic views of Fourth of July fireworks, had the opportunity to visit friends and relatives around the country on layovers, and developed more adventurous taste buds as a result of my travels.
In December 2015, I became a mother. My daughter is an endless source of joy in my life, and I treasure nurturing her as she grows and learns. I’ve had many questions and uncertainties as a new mom, but I always knew I wanted to breastfeed. After all, it is highly recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.
What I didn’t consider is that it could pose a problem for my career. Unfortunately, Frontier has literally forced me to choose between breastfeeding my child and doing my job.
When I returned to flying, my daughter was just four months old and was still nursing. I was shocked to find that Frontier did not have any breastfeeding policies in place to help flight attendants like myself, especially given that the company offers no paid maternity leave and that the majority of flight attendants are women. I had already used my remaining unpaid Family Medical Leave Act-accrued time off as well as my unpaid medical leave from Frontier to care for my newborn, so I had to get creative.
With no guidance or support from Frontier, breastfeeding flight attendants have resorted to sharing know-how with one another about pumping on the job. We often work 10-hour duty days of back-to-back flights, with no time to pump in between flights. Delaying pumping for more than three to four hours risks painful engorgement and serious infection. Other flight attendants who had breastfed their babies told me they had taken short breaks to use a breast pump to express breast milk in the lavatory during quiet times during flights — slipping away just as they would if they needed to use the bathroom.
So that was what I did, too. But pumping in the aircraft lavatory was unpleasant, and I was finding it increasingly challenging to pump while on duty. I started to wonder if there were any alternatives available for me. For example, modifying my schedule to leave me long enough time on the ground between flights to pump somewhere in the airport other than a bathroom. Even at my own base in Denver, my only option for pumping was to sit on the floor of the family bathroom.
When I learned that female pilots at Frontier were having similar problems and had initiated a lawsuit against Frontier for its refusal to provide them accommodations for pregnancy and breastfeeding, I was upset on their behalf. There is a strong sense of camaraderie in this industry, built on a shared dedication to flying and many hours spent together working as a crew. Unfairness for one part of the crew affects all of us. And the issues the pilots were raising obviously hit close to home. The pilots who had challenged Frontier gave me the courage to ask what my options were.
In response, Frontier not only refused to help me arrange a schedule that was compatible with pumping — it went even further and prohibited me from pumping on board the aircraft at all. While the circumstances I’d been working under had hardly been ideal, pumping during flight was what had made it possible for me to go back to the job I love and start earning income for my family again after my unpaid leave. I knew that working trips with 10-hour days without being able to pump would have put my health and breast milk supply in danger, and I wasn’t ready to stop breastfeeding my daughter. That left me with no choice but to go on unpaid leave.
Joined by another flight attendant, Stacy Rewitzer, I’m now taking a stand alongside the female Frontier pilots. Today, Stacy and I filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP. We are asking that Frontier make clean and convenient lactation rooms available at airports, permit pumping on board the aircraft while in flight if necessary, and allow pregnant and breastfeeding flight attendants to work temporary ground positions if they choose. We’re also asking Frontier to provide relief from a strict attendance policy that penalizes flight attendants who miss work due to pregnancy-related complications and to offer meaningful parental leave for new parents.
I am bringing these charges not just for me and my daughter but also for future flight attendants and their families. No one should have to choose between being the mom she wants to be and pursuing the career she loves. I’m proud to stand with the pilots who stood up to Frontier before us, so that new moms at Frontier — both inside and outside the flight deck — cannot just survive, but can thrive.
Have you experienced discrimination or been denied accommodations for pregnancy or breastfeeding at work? Tell us your story here: https://action.aclu.org/secure/sex-discrimination-employment
Originally published at www.aclu.org.