'I was humiliated, shocked and enraged': SA mom 'publicly shamed' for breastfeeding on flight

On the 9th of July, Dr Sarah Kate Hooper, her husband and their 18-month-old daughter flew from Lanseria to Durban on a 10:20am Kulula flight. This is her story.

"I was sitting in a window seat holding my daughter on my lap, my husband was in the centre seat and another man on the aisle. The air hostess briefed us on flying with a baby. She advised that should my daughter cry from the pressure changes in her inner ear on take off or landing, it would be advisable to give her a bottle or dummy. We thanked her and didn’t comment.

Upon take-off I discreetly turned my body to face the window and breast-fed my child. There was no way any other of the seated passengers would have even known I was breastfeeding, unless they had leaned forward to look over both my husband and my bodies.

My baby started to fall asleep when the air hostess came past with her drink and snack trolly. She offered me a snack which I declined. She then loudly and patronisingly with a tone and look of disgust said ‘won’t you just cover yourself up’.

I replied that that I had the right to breastfeed and she raised her voice looking at all the surrounding passengers, said to me ‘yes, but you should cover up out of respect and consideration to your fellow passengers’.

At this point my baby was awake and every person around us was was looking at me, my baby and my breast. I was humiliated (not by breastfeeding, let me clarify, but by the way I was spoken to), shocked and enraged. I told her to stop, that her behaviour was against national and airline policy and that she was being unkind. She continued to shout at me that I was disgusting and disrespectful.

She did this over the other passengers and in front of my child. I said that I didn’t want to speak to her about this anymore and would speak to her supervisor. At this point she bent down and said to the gentleman in the aisle seat, in a sensitive and concerned manner, ’Sir, if you are uncomfortable I’d be happy to move you to another seat’. He declined to move.

The flight supervisor did not come to our seats to diffuse the situation, apologise or reprimand The airhostess. However, when my husband went to the front of the plane to speak to him, he was apologetic and indicated that he was appalled by her behaviour and that we should email Kulula with a complaint.

I am disappointed that he did not take up disciplining her himself and that we have had no contact from the airline to this date. I emailed Kulula this week and received a generic apology from the complaints department.

I am a proudly breast feeding mother. My daughter has never had a bottle or a dummy. I am also a practicing medical doctor with a diploma in child health, and experience in working in a breast milk bank at a government run paediatric unit.

I am fully aware of all laws and government policy regarding breastfeeding, and my right to breastfeed my baby wherever I am. I am aware that any airline policy or an individual air hostess ’s targeting that right is unacceptable discrimination. This incident and Kululas handling of the complaint have distressed and disappointed me and my family immensely.

Dr Sarah Kate Hooper

MBBCh (Wits) DCH (SA) ?#?iflykulula???? ?#?kulula????"

Kulula responds

Bridgette Ramuluvhana, Marketing Manager for kulula.com responds: “We again apologise to Dr Hooper for any discomfort experienced by her and her family. A senior member of our management team has already spoken with Dr Hopper to express those apologies directly.

We’re investigating this specific incident, and once that’s done, we’ll take whatever remedial action may be required to ensure that the high standards of our business are adhered to.

Like any responsible, customer-centric business we respect the rights of breast feeding moms as well as other fellow passengers.”

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