Baby Princesses - this post is not for you, but for nursing moms out there. I've got a couple of things to post for you soon. Thanks for letting me use "your" blog to vent . . .
Dear Reagan National Airport and Delta,
I’d like you to imagine for a moment that you live in a world without bathrooms.
Let me amend that picture slightly. Not all bathrooms have been eliminated; there are a few here and there in recognition of the fact that a small sliver of the population does use need to use the bathroom (most people do not). In this world, you are a one of those rare people who needs a bathroom a few times throughout the day. You have installed a bathroom at your home and your workplace has agreed to accommodate you by giving you access to a bathroom somewhere within a half a mile radius. As long as you don’t vary your routine much, it is generally not a problem.
But. Sometimes you do not get the break in your schedule that you need to use the bathroom. Sometimes you are called upon to attend a work event that lasts for several hours or even days. And sometimes, you even need to travel. Every time you run across one of these occurrences, you call ahead to the meeting attendees/event organizers/host, explain to them your dilemma, and see if they are able to find a solution that is workable for everyone. It’s a little embarrassing, of course, because it’s a pretty personal matter and you also don’t really want to be the person who requires special attention. They may be understanding; perhaps they know someone else who uses the bathroom. They may just be confused because they’ve never had to deal with that issue before. And sometimes, they may think they can help you but when you arrive at what they have told you will be a useable bathroom, it’s just not going to work.
And finally, imagine that one day at the end of a trip, when you’ve had issues with finding bathrooms at your destination and you are impatient to be home, your flight is delayed and you learn that there are no bathrooms at the airport or on the plane. You will need to spend a minimum of seven hours with no access to a bathroom.
Now you understand what it is like to be a nursing mom. And specifically, what it was like to be a nursing mom on a very delayed Delta flight, stuck at Reagan for several hours last night. Multiple kind and personable employees of both the airport and Delta confirmed that no, there were absolutely no lactation rooms anywhere in the airport. And no, there was no private space that could be found to serve this purpose for 20 minutes. No office, no space in a club room, nothing at all with a door that closed.
Nursing regularly, like using the bathroom, is a biological need that prevents you from really focusing on anything else until that pressure is alleviated. What starts out as slight discomfort quickly morphs into full-blown pain, and there’s also the matter of leaking. If last night was really that bad, you might ask, why didn’t I pump in a bathroom stall? To answer a question with a question, if you really had to go to the bathroom, would you walk into the kitchen of one of the airport restaurants, find a drain in the floor and go? Sometimes pumping in grimy bathroom is just too difficult to stomach.
The obvious issue here is that in a place that routinely sees people trapped for longer than they anticipated being there, there is absolutely no system in place to accommodate nursing mothers. If the airport isn’t willing to provide that service to travelers, then Delta needs to step up and find a solution for their affected passengers. The underlying issue is even more disturbing, however. Many genuinely kind, sympathetic and well-meaning staff members were not empowered to find a solution to a relatively simple problem. They genuinely believed that I was making a reasonable request and would have helped me if they could. But because it was outside the scope of the normal day-to-day, there was nothing they could do. Lactation rooms are a need you can anticipate (so it’s confusing that you haven’t). But, there are always going to be passengers with special needs that you can’t anticipate or just haven’t run across before. Your employees need the permission and the training to know when it’s okay to bend a rule, to look for a work-around, to think critically and figure out a way to bring a passenger to a room with a door that closes if that’s what they really need. Otherwise, you’ll never achieve a superior level of customer service.
Thank you for listening.