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TSA blogger apologizes for breast-feeding incident

By Marnie Hunter, CNN
updated 2:40 PM EST, Fri March 9, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Agent tells breast-feeding mom she can't board flight with empty bottles, report says
  • TSA blogger posts apology for snafu over breast-feeding at Hawaii airport
  • The officer made a mistake and is "receiving remedial training," TSA says
  • Confusion among agents over TSA's breast-feeding policy has happened before

(CNN) -- Traveling while breast-feeding is no easy feat in the best of circumstances. When Transportation Security Administration officials don't follow the agency's rules, getting through the airport with the gear -- and a baby -- gets more difficult.

A breast-feeding incident that has had TSA critics buzzing since last week was addressed in an apologetic blog post Thursday from the agency's "Blogger Bob" Burns.

The controversy started when an agent at Kauai's Lihue Airport in Hawaii wouldn't allow passenger Amy Strand to board a plane February 29 with her breast pump because the milk bottles were empty, CNN affiliate KITV-TV in Honolulu reported. As a result Strand used her electric breast pump in a public airport restroom to fill the bottles and get them through security. She was traveling with her 9-month-old daughter, Eva.

"I had to stand in front of the mirrors and the sinks and pump my breast, in front of every tourist that walked into that bathroom," Strand told KITV.

TSA admitted its agent made a mistake shortly afterward, saying in a statement: "We accept responsibility for the apparent misunderstanding and any inconvenience or embarrassment this incident may have caused her. The officer in question is receiving remedial training."

Burns, the TSA blogger, announced Thursday that the agency has updated its website "to help clarify the procedures for traveling with ice packs, breast milk, juice, and water."

The policy explained on the site now explicitly says that ice packs and empty bottles are permitted through security.

"Mistakes such as this happen from time to time and for that we are truly sorry," Burns wrote. "However, we can and have learned from mistakes in the past, so please be sure to let us know when you think or know something could have been handled differently."

Burns advised passengers to ask for a supervisor in uncomfortable situations or to call TSA customer service numbers listed in his post -- 866-289-9673 and 855-787-2227.

Commenters on Burns' post weren't all satisfied with his advice. One said: "1) It has been frequently reported that TSA staff do not care whether or not something has been clearly stated on the website when they are imposing their own understanding of the rules; 2) It has been frequently reported that polite requests to speak with supervisors are treated as defiant behavior."

Those comments may refer to a 2010 incident involving a breast-feeding mother that resulted in a lawsuit against the TSA and Department of Homeland Security.

According to the suit, Stacey Armato was traveling with breast milk for her 7-month-old son and requested alternate screening for the milk at a Phoenix International Airport checkpoint to avoid X-ray exposure.

The suit says the same TSA agents she had encountered in the security line at the airport the week before retaliated against her for filing a complaint when her request for alternate screening for her breast milk in that instance met with resistance. The suit alleges that on her second encounter with the agents, Armato was directed to a "special inspection" area, where her requests to speak to a manager were refused. A uniformed police officer was also called in, according to court filings.

Armato is suing on grounds of intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and false imprisonment. The suit alleges that screeners initially refused to review a printout that Armato provided of TSA guidelines pertaining to breast milk.

The TSA said it sent a letter of apology to Armato shortly afterward.

Despite some less-than-smooth incidents, many breast-feeding mothers pass through security with no trouble. One woman who said she's a nursing mother and hasn't had any trouble with security commented on the Strand incident: "Like several have said, this is not representative of TSA as an agency, but the stupidity of that particular agent."

Breast-feeding moms, what are your experiences of traveling while nursing? Please share your comments below.

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