Update: I DM’d the agent info to Heathrow, and have received this response.
I’ve been traveling without my family for a business trip this week in London. Since I’m still breastfeeding, I needed to pump. This is the 6th such trip so far this year, so this is not a new situation for me. Every previous time, if I go through security and am questioned why I have breastmilk with no baby, I explain (this has happened a few times in the last 6 months). (This rule makes no sense to me whatsoever. Were any mothers who breastfed involved in making this rule? Why on earth would I have breastmilk, if I *had* the baby with me? I would just let him feed from me. I ONLY carry breastmilk when I *don’t* have him, because I needed to pump.) Every time I have to explain how my body actually works, occasionally in front of coworkers and business associates. It’s super awkward and humiliating. There’ve been full pat-downs, even. But every time, at every airport, they allow the milk through once they understand the situation and felt they have sufficiently tested it. As I’ve read the rules, breastmilk is classified similarly to medicine and allowed in larger amounts and with ice packs to keep it cool. I spent maybe 20 minutes trying to explain this to the agent at Heathrow who was straight-faced, cold, and just kept repeating that he was *quite certain* he knew the rules better than I did and there could be no testing. The only available option was to check the bag (at my own cost, of course). I consented eventually to doing so, because that was my only option, even though this terrifies me. I’ve had bags misplaced before, and knowing that my son might not get this food because the airlines lost my luggage is extremely upsetting. As you must know, breastmilk will go bad. So, if they find the luggage the following day, it’s already too late.
However, once I had consented to checking the luggage, they explained that there were additional issues. Namely, that my pumping gear contained an ice pack. So, here’s the real problem: I have an 8-hour flight ahead of me, and I pump every 4-6 hours. They explained that I needed to throw away (or check) the ice pack, and risk having NO WAY TO KEEP MY MILK SAFE for my trip home. They might as well have asked me to throw out whatever I would be producing on the plane. There seemed to be confusion over the fact that I needed an ice pack for empty bottles. I offered to pump and return so there was liquid that needed to be cold, but was told I was being antagonizing. I asked them for ice before I left the area, because I needed to pump before I got on the plane and was very worried about being able to make the flight, find ice, and pump. Another agent refused to help me with this because he declared that I was being too rude. When I explained that I would absolutely be needing their information and would be posting this on social media, that same agent informed me that that was a threat, and if I continued in this manner, I would NOT BE ALLOWED TO BOARD, thus preventing me from seeing my family for longer. I wasn’t allowed access to my phone for the length of this (it was in the bin behind the bag I was forced to check and the pumping gear, and when I asked for it, I was told absolutely not.) I was escorted back out through security, an absolute mess, in tears and forced to check both the bag and ice pack.
After re-navigating security, I stopped by the United lounge and requested ice. The folks at reception were somewhat helpful. They opened the first-aid kit and gave me one of those instant ice packs that becomes cold with movement (it did not). So I asked at the bar, and was told there were no bags to contain the ice. Back to reception, who found me bags, and back to the bar. I was able to pump (a shorter session than I really needed) and make my flight (as one of the last who boarded). All of this still basically sobbing, with a complete lack of compassion from anyone.
However, as you may be aware, ice melts. When I pumped on the plane a few hours later, the bag had broken and water had seeped into the bottom of my pumping gear bag, coming into contact with my pump. I dried off the pump, emptied the liquid, and replenished the ice both times I pumped on that flight. However, navigating customs (AND baggage claim now!) as well as the trip home, meant that I was unable to relieve the pain in my breasts for closer to 8 hours (but at least I could just breastfeed this time, yay!). When I emptied the pumping gear bag at that point, there was water EVERYWHERE. I have been too upset to verify that there isn’t water damage to the pump itself (but will be doing so this afternoon). If there is, to whom should I be sending that bill? I cannot go without a pump.
The thing about all this is, when I finally did board my flight, I discovered a bottle of hand sanitizer in my pumping gear. It’s been there for a couple weeks. They were so busy harassing me about my breastmilk that they COMPLETELY MISSED an ENTIRE BOTTLE of liquid.