When attorney Stacey Armato arrived at the TSA inspection at her usual gate at Phoenix International Airport for her weekly return flight home to Los Angeles on February 1st, she felt a bit of trepidation. The week before she had been held for 40 minutes while TSA staff researched whether she had a right to refuse to allow her pumped breast milk to be x-rayed. She had requested “alternate” screening – something to which she has been entitled since the summer of 2007 when the TSA exempted breast milk from the 3-1-1 rule and reclassified it as a medical liquid. Under current TSA policy, breast milk may be carried on-board in any reasonable quantity, as long as it fits in carry-on luggage, and it 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). While the TSA website is far from user-friendly on this point, the “alternate” screening in place for medications is available to those traveling with breast milk because breast milk was reclassified as a “medical necessity.”(scroll down to the Q&A).
After her negative experience the previous week, Armato had filed a complaint with the TSA. Now she was about to be screened by the same staff about whom she complained. But she could have no way of knowing what they had in store for her.
When Armato asked once again to have her breast milk (which she was bringing home to her 7 month old son) screened without an x-ray, she was held in custody by TSA for an hour and a half. She was given no explanation. She never knew how long she would be held. As her flight left without her, she stood trapped in a plastic box weeping while her pumped milk – now out of its cooler – was played with by TSA staffed. Seriously, watch the TSA staffer in the foreground of the video below. She picks up, puts down and tosses about the containers of milk as if they are toys.
Below is a YouTube video made by Armato’s brother-in-law. The footage presented in this video was obtained by Armato through a Freedom of Information Act request and is the official recording made by the TSA. However, approximately 25 minutes of video – what happened after what you can see here – was destroyed by TSA as not relevant to her complaint.
So let’s take a break right here and give Armato a hand. This mother returned to full-time work outside the home 13 weeks after her first son was born. Her son was fed exclusively with breast milk despite her work requiring she travel from Los Angeles to Phoenix once every week. She flew early morning and return in the afternoon, pumping approximately 12 ounces of breast milk during the day. It was this milk she was trying to bring home to her son.
Since this YouTube video went viral last week, many have asked whether she filed a complaint with the TSA about her treatment. The answer is “yes,” however to her knowledge nothing was done to discipline the TSA staff involved in this incident. Armato has taken this same flight many times since February and she has seen all of the TSA staff members at work. Armato has yet to find an attorney willing to represent her in a lawsuit against the TSA.
So what happened in the twenty odd minutes after this video ends? Armato was forced by TSA staff to divide her breast milk into more containers. Yeah, that’s right. Armato had 12 ounces of breast milk in four 3 ounce containers despite the fact TSA policy does not require breast milk be carried in 3 ounce containers. After being held in custody for an hour and a half, TSA staff forced her to sit on the floor and pour her breast milk into new containers so that each container held no more than 2 ounces.
Does any TSA policy or regulation require that breast milk be carried in 2 ounces batches? No. There is no explanation for what happened to Stacey Armato other than that she was targeted for harassment by vengeful TSA staffers against whom she had filed a complaint the previous week. And those staffers still work for the TSA. They not only got away with holding Armato hostage, they are free to do the same to you.
What are your thoughts about what happened to Stacey Armato? Have you been harassed while trying to carry breast milk through a TSA checkpoint? During this holiday weekend in the U.S., how are you treated by the TSA as you traveled with your children?
About Jake Marcus