Frontier Airlines Made Me Choose Between Breastfeeding My Daughter or Doing My Job

I have been a flight attendant for 16 years, and I love flying. The thrill of take offs, the turbulence that gives me butterflies in my stomach, the anticipation of visiting new and familiar places. My dad, who was a private pilot, would take me out flying when I was younger, practicing touch-and-go landings and sharing his passion for flight with me. My career has expanded my horizons and brought experiences I could have never imagined. I’ve seen panoramic views of Fourth of July fireworks, had the opportunity to visit friends and relatives around the country on layovers, and developed more adventurous taste buds as a result of my travels.

In December 2015, I became a mother. My daughter is an endless source of joy in my life, and I treasure nurturing her as she grows and learns. I’ve had many questions and uncertainties as a new mom, but I always knew I wanted to breastfeed. After all, it is highly recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.

What I didn’t consider is that it could pose a problem for my career. Unfortunately, Frontier has literally forced me to choose between breastfeeding my child and doing my job.

When I returned to flying, my daughter was just four months old and was still nursing. I was shocked to find that Frontier did not have any breastfeeding policies in place to help flight attendants like myself, especially given that the company offers no paid maternity leave and that the majority of flight attendants are women. I had already used my remaining unpaid Family Medical Leave Act-accrued time off as well as my unpaid medical leave from Frontier to care for my newborn, so I had to get creative.

Jo Roby and her daughter

With no guidance or support from Frontier, breastfeeding flight attendants have resorted to sharing know-how with one another about pumping on the job. We often work 10-hour duty days of back-to-back flights, with no time to pump in between flights. Delaying pumping for more than three to four hours risks painful engorgement and serious infection. Other flight attendants who had breastfed their babies told me they had taken short breaks to use a breast pump to express breast milk in the lavatory during quiet times during flights — slipping away just as they would if they needed to use the bathroom.

So that was what I did, too. But pumping in the aircraft lavatory was unpleasant, and I was finding it increasingly challenging to pump while on duty. I started to wonder if there were any alternatives available for me. For example, modifying my schedule to leave me long enough time on the ground between flights to pump somewhere in the airport other than a bathroom. Even at my own base in Denver, my only option for pumping was to sit on the floor of the family bathroom.

When I learned that female pilots at Frontier were having similar problems and had initiated a lawsuit against Frontier for its refusal to provide them accommodations for pregnancy and breastfeeding, I was upset on their behalf. There is a strong sense of camaraderie in this industry, built on a shared dedication to flying and many hours spent together working as a crew. Unfairness for one part of the crew affects all of us. And the issues the pilots were raising obviously hit close to home. The pilots who had challenged Frontier gave me the courage to ask what my options were.

In response, Frontier not only refused to help me arrange a schedule that was compatible with pumping — it went even further and prohibited me from pumping on board the aircraft at all. While the circumstances I’d been working under had hardly been ideal, pumping during flight was what had made it possible for me to go back to the job I love and start earning income for my family again after my unpaid leave. I knew that working trips with 10-hour days without being able to pump would have put my health and breast milk supply in danger, and I wasn’t ready to stop breastfeeding my daughter. That left me with no choice but to go on unpaid leave.

Jo Roby and her daughter

Joined by another flight attendant, Stacy Rewitzer, I’m now taking a stand alongside the female Frontier pilots. Today, Stacy and I filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Holwell Shuster & Goldberg LLP. We are asking that Frontier make clean and convenient lactation rooms available at airports, permit pumping on board the aircraft while in flight if necessary, and allow pregnant and breastfeeding flight attendants to work temporary ground positions if they choose. We’re also asking Frontier to provide relief from a strict attendance policy that penalizes flight attendants who miss work due to pregnancy-related complications and to offer meaningful parental leave for new parents.

I am bringing these charges not just for me and my daughter but also for future flight attendants and their families. No one should have to choose between being the mom she wants to be and pursuing the career she loves. I’m proud to stand with the pilots who stood up to Frontier before us, so that new moms at Frontier — both inside and outside the flight deck — cannot just survive, but can thrive.

Have you experienced discrimination or been denied accommodations for pregnancy or breastfeeding at work? Tell us your story here: https://action.aclu.org/secure/sex-discrimination-employment

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Judy Canahuati

It's too bad there is no airline employees union. This would be a clear union issue. Good luck to you with your case. Great that ACLU is also weighing in.

Joe

The Frontier flight attendants and pilots are represented by unions (AFA-CWA and ALPA, respectively).

Anonymous

So sad that you had to take time off because Frontier couldn't figure this out! Actually it's stupid! Stand up and be counted! As a mom of 4 I won't be flying Frontier.

Desiree

Good for you Jo - too many women silently suffer. Thank you for fight for your rights, and for the rights of women who will benefit from your efforts.

Anonymous

"Not a right" shame on you for not knowing your rights. By law women are allowed to pump or breastfeed where ever they are legally allowed to be, whether that be in private or public. I happen to be a mom that couldn't breastfeed my baby directly and exclusively pumped. I mainly pumped at home, but when life had me out of the house i pumped where i needed to including public areas like the mall or even a target. Shame on frontier for not making accommodations for mothers. I dont fly very often but will not be flying frontier anytime soon. Jo- good for you for taking on this fight and standing up for mamas everywhere. Good luck in this difficult journey!

Anonymous

There are 4 interior doors on an Airbus. 3 lavs and the cockpit. Where would you like Airbus to design another little pumping room for you? The longest US flight Frontier has is approximately 3 1/2 hours with a nearly 1 hour break at the end. How long does pumping take and how do you keep the milk chilled afterward?
Flying jobs suck period. I cannot begin to tell you what I have had to work around. A person either deals with it or you find another line of work that works for you.

Anonymous

Good for you.But at a terrible cost! My daughter travels 3 out of 4 weeks for her job w/ C. Schwab (doesnt offer paid maternity leave either) and is struggling w the same issue w her 7mo old daughter. Even at her hdqtrs in Denver area, their ofc had no accomodation for BF NEW mothers. Eventually one conf room ( of many) was turned into a room to BF , but the moms had to sign up in advance for a time. Then they put a DNDsign on the door.
FOR GOD's SAKE PEOPLE!
stop the patriarchial greed and discrimination toward women !!!! Shame on Frontier et al !

Former Breast F...

Good for you! I'm so glad you are taking this on. As far as "Not a Right" comment--this is a woman who thinks "if I had to suffer, then I want other to also suffer." That kind of attitude from other women is horrible and disgusting. My son's are both in their 20s and I breast fed them both--mainly in bathrooms. So glad times have changed. Breast feeding is the best for children and we need to be supportive of families.

Anonymous

An empty seat is all that is needed to accommodate pumping during a flight. I pump in my seat under a breastfeeding cover on work travel. Good luck and good for you! (In response to the idea that a plane would need a space)

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