Before I left on my trip, I had read the TSA guidelines for traveling with breastmilk and other liquid exemptions (items that are exempt from the 3-1-1 rule). I had also read about Stacey Armato, the lawyer and breastfeeding mother who was detained and bullied by TSA and made to miss her flight when she refused to allow her pumped breastmilk to be x-rayed. It was my understanding from what I had read that:
- "When carrying formula, breast milk, or juice through the checkpoint, they will be inspected, however, you or your infant or toddler will not be asked to test or taste breast milk, formula, or juice. [TSOs] may test liquid exemptions (exempt items more than 3 ounces) for explosives."
- "Breastmilk is in the same category as liquid medications"
- "Frozen items are allowed as long as they are frozen solid when presented for screening. If frozen items are partially melted, slushy, or have any liquid at the bottom of the container, they must meet 3-1-1 requirements."
- Breastmilk can be screened either through the x-ray machine "or by hand (the "alternate" screening for medication) which may consist of a visual inspection or a wipe of the container's exterior that supposedly detects explosives."
Here's What Happened
|Way more frozen milk than I had with me|
The first TSO (a woman) told me that there is no alternate screening process for breastmilk. I told her that breastmilk is classified as a "medical liquid" according to TSA and is therefore allowed to be alternatively screened (not put through the x-ray machine) if I requested. She said that wasn't true, then called for her manager. I talked to him, repeating my request for the alternate screening, and he said that everything has to go through the x-ray machine. I told him that the TSA website says that breastmilk is in the same category as other medical liquids, and therefore does not have to be x-rayed. He said, "I'm sorry, but everything has to be x-rayed." I asked if there was anyone else I could speak to about it. This man (manager) told me that his manager would be a while because he was all the way over at the other end of the airport. He and the other TSOs directed me to wait in a chair in the middle of the security screening area. I could see my family waiting for me on the other side of the metal detector and full-body scanner. I sat down and held Daniel on my lap, without my shoes or other personal belongings, which had been placed on top of the x-ray machine at that point (as they had already gone through the screening process and were waiting for me to make it through).
While I was waiting, a male TSO asked me if I was waiting for someone, and I told him I was waiting to discuss my breastmilk with "a manager," and he walked away. I waited for approximately 20 minutes in the chair in the middle of security before the second manager, Randell C. Lundsgaard, showed up. Mr. Lundsgaard asked to see my milk. I opened my cooler bag, removed the ice pack, and showed him the three bags of frozen milk. Mr. Lundsgaard then reiterated that the breastmilk had to go through the x-ray machine. He told me that since it's frozen, it doesn't count as a medical liquid. I pointed out to him that breastmilk is perishable. If I didn't freeze it, it would spoil, and would be unusable. He said that he understood that, but that "bad people" could hide things in frozen liquids, and there's no way for him to verify that this is, in fact, breastmilk, without it going through the x-ray machine.
I sat right outside the checkpoint to look up the TSA regulations on my phone. I opened up the page that discusses medical liquids and also the page that talks about how liquids that are frozen solid at the time of screening are allowed through the checkpoint. I gathered up my things and got in line to go through security again. I unpacked my belongings again after my boarding pass and ID were checked, and immediately asked the first TSO (the female one who first said that there is no alternate screening for breastmilk) that I would like to talk to her manager again about the breastmilk. I told her I had the TSA rules from their website on my phone to show to him. Her manager came over to me and didn't want to see what I had to show him from the TSA website. He just told me that Mr. Lundsgaard would be a while (again) because he was all the way over at the other end of the airport (as he had been before). I acknowledged what he had said, and he walked away. I sat down again with Daniel. The female TSO set my bins of belongings aside because she didn't want them to go through the x-ray without me this time. They were out of my direct sight, so while I was waiting I had to turn around to watch my things, as other travelers had to work around them to put their things through the x-ray machine.
After a while, Mr. Lundsgaard showed up for a second time with another man, Francis K. Ruholl, to talk to me about the breastmilk. I showed them the websites that said breastmilk is a medical liquid and also that liquids that are frozen solid are allowed (and exempt from the 3-1-1 rule). They said that I was looking at two different rules that don't go together, and that since the milk is frozen, it no longer qualifies as a medical liquid because it's not a liquid anymore. I then asked, "What about frozen medications?" They said that if I had a note from my doctor that they would consider allowing the milk to not be put through the x-ray machine. I pointed out that I'm not in my home city, which is why I'm transporting frozen milk. How was I supposed to get a note from my doctor? They said if I had a note from my doctor that that "might help," but since I didn't have one, the breastmilk had to go through the x-ray machine. They said once again, that since it was frozen, they aren't able to do the alternate screening on it, because they can't just get a little bit of it out. I then offered to open one of the bags and break a piece off for them to thaw and test, and one of them asked, "But then how can we be sure that the rest of it is safe?"
At this point, I was getting fairly upset. I told them repeatedly that they were breaking their own (TSA's) rules. I mentioned Stacy Armato's story, and how the TSA has apologized to her and told her they were in the wrong and that her breastmilk should have been allowed to have the alternate screening. I offered to read them that post on the TSA blog, as I had read the regulations about breastmilk from the TSA site to them previously, and they declined.
As I started to get up from my seat to put my milk on the conveyor, Daniel started to chew on the envelope my boarding pass was in. I took it from him and made a remark to him about it (as he has a tendency to try to eat paper whenever it's within reach). Mr. Ruholl then addressed Daniel, jokingly saying, "Don't chew on that, that's not good for you!" I replied, "No, but you know what is? My breastmilk. And I won't be able to give it to him after you irradiate it." He stopped talking. I told them that since my family was waiting for me and I wanted to get home, I would put the milk through the x-ray machine.
I went through the metal detector with Daniel, and motioned to my family members for one of them to come over and hold him for me. They were too nervous to approach the security area (having been questioned about why they were lingering there, I found out later) so I walked over to them in my socks and handed Daniel over. I went back to retrieve my belongings, then returned to my family. I was fairly distraught, and crying pretty hard by this point. My family tried to comfort me, but Mr. Ruholl came up to me because I had left my cell phone in one of the security bins.
My Family Has My Back
Since he was standing there with everyone, my brother started asking Mr. Ruholl questions. Mr. Ruholl quickly got very defensive and aggressive, and began pointing in my brother's face as he spoke loudly. I was standing in between them, but to the side, so Mr. Ruholl had his hand in my face. I reached up to his hand and asked him to get his hand out of my face while my brother was also asking him to stop pointing at him, and he put his hand down. I don't remember everything they said to each other, but my brother was trying to find out if Mr. Ruholl had broken the law. I recounted the events of the last 45 minutes or so to my family, while Mr. Ruholl repeatedly said that I was misinterpreting the regulations on the TSA website.
Mr. Ruholl then admitted that there are unpublished regulations that can't be made public "for security reasons" that state what he said about the milk having to go through the x-ray. My brother pointed out that if laws/regulations aren't made public, then the public can't follow them. My brother asked if the milk had been irradiated. I told him it had been, so I wasn't sure if I wanted to use it now.* Mr. Ruholl then said that it is my opinion that radiation is harmful. My brother pointed out that the harmful effects of radiation are scientific fact, not opinion. This went on. I was very upset. I was still crying, and having a bit of trouble breathing from being so worked-up. I left the group to go to the bathroom where I cried some more. When I came out, Mr. Ruholl had left, and I rejoined my family.
The fact is, we don't know what x-rays do to breastmilk. Regardless of this, the TSA is required to provide hand inspection of breastmilk and other items classified as "liquid medications" at the special request of the passenger. I was denied this opportunity in direct violation of the TSA's own published regulations. The whole idea that TSA has unpublished rules that passengers are required to follow is very scary to me. I understand there may be things that need to be kept secret in the interest of national security. I also know that if a regulation isn't discoverable by a passenger, she shouldn't be required to follow it. The agents I encountered were caught up on the semantics of a "medical liquid" being frozen (technically making it no longer a "liquid") instead of understanding that the milk itself is exempt from standard screening, if requested by the passenger.
I wrote most of this in the airport right after I recovered from crying after my time in the security checkpoint. My conclusions that day were this:
I feel violated. I feel my travel experience was greatly affected by the way I was treated. I wish they would have followed their regulations instead of harassing me in front of other passengers.
*Edited 1/6/11 at 6:46PM PST: To clarify, I did not throw away my milk after it was sent through the x-ray. I brought it all the way home with me and it's safe in my freezer now. I understand that x-rays don't cause breastmilk to have radiation or become radioactive. However, my milk was irradiated meaning it was exposed to a dose of radiation. The radiation could have had an effect on some of the cell structure/proteins in the milk (which is why breastmilk isn't supposed to be heated in the microwave). The fact that there should be alternate screening available for liquid medications acknowledges the fact that radiation from the airport x-ray machine could have an effect on items that are put through it. It's my right to choose whether I want my breastmilk exposed to the x-ray machine, and I was not allowed to make that choice.