Horrified, I looked up to the plane’s overhead compartment where my travel breast pump bag was wedged, and watched as tiny drips of milk dripped down onto the floor from the bin.
OMG, omg, omg, omg, my brain thought in a panic. OMG, that can not be my milk leaking, that CAN NOT BE MY MILK. Please, God, don’t let that be my milk leaking.
But it was. It totally was.
On an overnight business trip, I had left my 2-month-old at home with my husband and dutifully packed my breast pump, storage supplies, and tons of ice packs for the cooler that I hoped would keep my milk fresh on the two-hour flight home. I had been working a lot, and my baby refused to take formula of any kind (heck, she barely even took a bottle of breast milk). Naturally, I didn’t want to waste a single drop. I knew my supply would be totally depleted from this trip alone, and I was going to have to work almost immediately when I came home, so I was petrified of running out of milk.
As my mind surged over the possibilities of what to do with a leaking cooler of breast milk in an overhead bin, the flight attendant happened to saunter by at that very moment and noticed the mysterious substance leaking out.
“What in the world?” she exclaimed. Turning my way, she questioned, “Is that your bag?”
“No, it’s not,” I said as nonchalantly as I could, returning back to my fascinating in-flight magazine while my heart bumped wildly in my chest.
“Well, that’s just weird,” she said, glancing at the milk again. “I wonder what the heck that is.” She then proceeded to question all the surrounding passengers if that was their bag before finally giving up when the milk (miracle of miracles) eventually stopped dripping.
Looking back at this situation, which went down about five years ago, I’m kind of shocked it didn’t go any further, because a mysterious leaking substance from an overhead bin probably was super suspicious. Thankfully it didn’t, but I know there is still some confusion about the legalities of flying with breast milk on an airplane.
Just take the recent case of Vanessa Kasten Urango, a breastfeeding mother of a 4-month-old, flying with Delta Airlines who, despite following strict instructions that she obtained from Delta a week prior on how to properly store and label her breast milk with dry ice, faced immense hassle and money lost when she attempted to board her plane with two weeks worth of breast milk. Essentially, the ticketing agents told her she couldn’t have dry ice on the plane, even though Delta had told her to pack it in dry ice and she had purchased supplies specifically in order to pack her milk. So frustrating.
I’ve personally encountered a wide range of situations when traveling with my breast pump and breast milk during my last job, with everything from agents treating my pump like a bomb about to explode to it not being a big deal at all. But overall, the hassle of trying to actually store and carry on actual breast milk got to be too much for me, and I started pumping and dumping on all of my trips instead.
But for some moms that’s not an option, so I emailed Transportation Security Administration Spokesman Mike England to get the specific rules on flying with breast milk. Here’s what I learned:
You are allowed to bring more than 3.4 ounces of medically exemptible liquids (such as breast milk) in your carry-on luggage.
And there is no limit on the quantity, as long as it falls under “medically exemptible liquids.”
In order for the liquid to clear the checkpoint, passengers must first inform a TSO that they are carrying a medically exemptible liquid.
And then you must allow it to be screened through the X-ray machine.
If the passenger does not want to use the X-ray machine, the container will have to undergo additional screening procedures.
Again, even if you do not want it screened, you must inform the TSO agent conducting the screening.
Instead of opening the container, the passenger will receive screening that may include a pat-down and additional screening of all remaining accessible property.
England also noted that ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs, and other accessories required to cool formula, breast milk, and juice are allowed in carry-ons, and that passengers may bring up to five pounds of dry ice that is properly packaged (the package is vented) in their carry-on. (Got that, Delta?)
And in case you are worried about what happens after your breast milk has been X-rayed and manhandled by TSA agents all over the world, England would also like us to know that the Food and Drug Administration states that there are no known adverse effects from eating food, drinking beverages, and using medicine screened by X-ray.