Dutch flag carrier KLM has backtracked on its controversial policy of forcing breastfeeding mothers to cover up for fear of “offending” other passengers. Just days after the airline Tweeted its endorsement of the policy a KLM spokesperson now says breastfeeding mothers are “by no means… obliged to cover-up” and that they don’t want new mothers to “feel judged”.
KLM faced a barrage of criticism after a mother shared her story of being asked by a flight attendant to cover her child with a blanket while she was breastfeeding on a recent flight from San Francisco to Amsterdam. The mother, Shelby Angel, said she felt “uncomfortable and disrespected” by the policy but reps for the airline said its cabin attendants were only following company procedures.
The tone-deaf response, which was followed by a Facebook post and Tweet confirming the policy, was met by outrage and disbelief by many mothers around the world.
In an apparent about-turn, KLM now says its cabin crew may “suggest” unspecified “options” for a mother to “ensure some privacy”. Whether KLM has rewritten its policy or is trying to present some alternative facts on the original incident are unclear but at least the airline has acknowledged that it would be wrong to force a mother to cover up when breastfeeding.
“Our aim is to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable onboard,” the airline said in a statement released today.
“Of course mothers can breastfeed their children during our flights. By no means is the mother obliged to cover up herself or her child. And we absolutely don’t want to make the mums of our youngest passengers feel judged about the most natural thing in the world,” the statement continued.
“That is why our cabin crew may suggest the mum options to ensure some privacy when feeding their child.”
Where’s the safest seat on a plane?
It’s been a pretty disastrous week for KLM’s social media team – at the height of the breastfeeding scandal, the Twitter account of KLM India posted an update that claimed that in the event of an aircraft accident, the fatality rate of passengers sitting in the middle of the plane was highest.
Luckily, KLM India reassured its followers that sitting at the back of the plane is the safest place to be, while passengers sat up front are “marginally” safer. Hardly the kind of content you would expect an airline to be producing – could you imagine a car manufacturer revealing the least safe cars in their range?
KLM India quickly removed the Tweet as it dawned on them just how much of a misstep the “trivia” question had been. In a follow-up Tweet, the airline said it wanted to “sincerely apologise for a recent update. The post was based on a publicly available aviation fact, and isn’t a KLM opinion.”
“It was never our intention to hurt anyone’s sentiments. The post has since been deleted”.
While KLM India quoted data produced by Time magazine in 2015, the FAA said in an email to the Washington Post that there were too many variables to prove the safest (or for that matter, the least safe seats) on a plane.
“Many people have tried and failed to produce a scientifically defensible answer to this question,” the agency’s communications manager said. “There are too many variables, and this is the important one – so few accidents – that a simple answer is probably not statistically defensible.”
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.