An angry mother has warned breastfeeding moms not to fly with Dutch airline KLM after she was asked to cover her child and breast while breastfeeding on a recent flight. Shelby Angel was travelling with KLM from San Francisco to Amsterdam around a month ago with her one year old child when the incident happened. Angel claims a cabin attendant asked her to cover herself and KLM’s official response backing the actions of the crew member has caused widespread outrage.
In a lengthy Facebook post that has since gone viral, Angel says she tries to be discreet while breastfeeding her child but “sometimes some skin shows”.
“Before we even took off, I was approached by a flight attendant carrying a blanket. She told me (and I quote): “If you want to continue doing the breastfeeding, you need to cover yourself.”
Angel says the incident upset her and that she felt “uncomfortable and disrespected”. In fact, she felt so aggrieved with the whole situation that she wrote a complaint to KLM when she returned home. The airline’s response probably wasn’t what she was expecting.
KLM told Shelby that the cabin attendant had in fact been acting in accordance with company policy. When others then contacted KLM to confirm it’s policy, a spokesperson again said they “may request a mother to cover herself while breastfeeding, should other passengers be offended by this.”
But who actually decides what is offensive? The Netherlands is a famously open, tolerant and diverse nation – KLM is the flag carrier of this great country and it would seem only logical that KLM champions the values of the country it serves. Shelby no doubt believed KLM would have a progressive and welcoming policy towards breastfeeding. How wrong she was.
Obviously, a plane is a public place and some level of decency and common respect is required if you’re going to share a cramped cabin with a couple of hundred other people – but on the face of it, KLM seems really way off the mark on this one.
Which comes back to what is or isn’t deemed as offensive. Some things would seem pretty clear cut – say, wearing a t-shirt with a clearly racist slogan or a couple engaging in sexual activity.
But what about a same-sex couple holding hands or a passenger wearing a romper suit (like in a recent American Airlines case)? Some people may well find these things “offensive” but should an airline change its values in order to accommodate these passengers?
When you choose to fly with a flag carrier there should be some expectation that the airline lives by the values and social norms of its home nation. If you disagree with those values then it makes sense that you find an alternative airline.
As a flight attendant, I’ve seen plenty of mothers breastfeeding their children – some choose to cover up, other’s don’t. It’s never crossed my mind to ask a mother to coverup. As it stands, KLM’s ambiguous policy of what constitutes “offensive” behaviour is just creating a minefield for cabin attendants and passengers.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.