Just When You Thought it Was Safe to Travel with Breast Milk: The TSA Targets Mothers

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. 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 20 minutes of video – what happened after what you can see here – was destroyed by TSA as not relevant to her complaint.

If you would like to see all of the video Armato obtained without being sped up as it is below and without the graphic commentary, you can see it here, here, here, and here.

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?

138 comments to Just When You Thought it Was Safe to Travel with Breast Milk: The TSA Targets Mothers

daveDecember 27th, 2010 at 10:52 am · Reply Revolution time is at hand!

gregory December 27th, 2010 at 11:20 am · Reply I am feeling as though I am living in some socialist environment. Our politicians are given too much power and that’s the reason we are faced with these many issues. There should be a public out cry to this madness. Were is the President and these law makers when you need them? Shameful for a country that believe in the rule of law.We are becoming no different than those we are fighting.

Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
December 27th, 2010 at 11:38 am · Reply @Gregory, I think you are confusing socialism and fascism. We can be socialist – responsible for each other in a way we narrow the gap between rich and poor – without giving up our civil rights and physical integrity. There is *nothing* socialist about the TSA.


December 29th, 2010 at 12:14 pm · Reply I am bothered that in the name of security people are being hired to do this scanning/body search thing that have no business being there. They are stupid. They get off on intimidating people. It should not be allowed. I see down the line someday these people being allowed to do cavity searches at their whim. Outradeous!!!

Randy December 27th, 2010 at 11:28 am · Reply

Why all the complaints? We ask that the government do everything but wipe our backsides. With little to no accountability without having to hire a lawyer or ACLU? Are you kidding me?? Kick them the heck out of our lives (and wallets). MAKE the gov. responsible for it’s safety and defense of borders only. Or get used to more of the same. How many bites are you willing to take from a crap sandwich America?

Sher December 27th, 2010 at 11:40 am · Reply And, yet, we vote for all of them. Wake up America! Study your politicians as though your life depended on it.

bobby December 28th, 2010 at 5:14 pm · Reply hear hear !! Well said

Sue December 27th, 2010 at 1:54 pm · Reply Any when will they force nursing mothers to express their milk prior to boarding? It is liquid, after all.Potentially hazardous. And who will be performing the expression of said milk to ensure it is all released.

Patricia December 27th, 2010 at 2:57 pm · Reply Unfortunately I am not surprised. I have worked in law enforcement entities that abuse their authority and power through coercion and corruption over and over again, with absolutley no regard for ethics or morals. It has to end! Lawyers should be all over cases like this but sadly they arent.

Noel Victor Comley December 27th, 2010 at 3:39 pm · Reply America – land of the free and home of the brave?

Bill Kay December 27th, 2010 at 3:47 pm · Reply Gestapo tactics , they broke the law , these rotton pigs should go to prision .

Bill Kay December 27th, 2010 at 6:26 pm · Reply Gestapo tactics they broke the law these people should go to jail /prison this is unacceptable in the U.S.A.

Marilyn December 27th, 2010 at 3:58 pm · Reply So this is the state where Napalitino was governor. No wonder things are so bad nationally on this front.

Dr J Hough December 27th, 2010 at 4:14 pm · Reply make the airlines responsible for the safety of their passengers—flight crews are as interested as anyone re getting safely to destinations–Scrap TSA and save billions

Pete December 27th, 2010 at 5:43 pm · Reply This tape should be sent to all 100 senators, forget the house there are too many incompetent reps. there. This will have more impact than infuriating the general population as it did me.

kim chipman December 27th, 2010 at 6:03 pm · Reply I feel sick and disgusted. We are a nation of backwards people not objecting timely… o’bama is just another puppet, a band aid with a new character. wake-up america – ’cause between THIS type of nonsense and the fact that NONE OF YOU are boycotting products made in china… yes, the two do go hand in hand if you choose to connect the dots… your little children will be living in a nightmare in 20 years.

smilin bob December 27th, 2010 at 6:18 pm · Reply Quit blaming the politicians……it’s these mongoliod morons they hire to put at the gates.
We have become so used to being treated like criminals by everyone from retailers to airlines that we have forgotten what freedom used to be.

thelma louise December 27th, 2010 at 7:29 pm · Reply we live in australia & i think thats the most disgusting thing i have ever heard someone in charge must be a sex maniac ‘
however there is one awful disease that has reached our hospitals called vre. it is spread by unwashed hands mostly by nurses shifting from one patient to another it is called V.R.E.
you can find that on the computer if elderly patients are exposed to it especially it can kill .& otherwise if you pick it up can make you feel really exhausted & languide if your young
thats mostly spread by not washing hands if you even handle anything these people who have vre has touched.
in q only came to australia about 6 years ago. hope that helps re travel on planes sincerely from thelma louise

Sue December 27th, 2010 at 11:48 pm · Reply Thelma Louise – I just looked up that disease and it says this
“Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus is a mutant strain of Enterococcus that originally developed in individuals who were exposed to the antibiotic. It was first identified in Europe in 1986, and in the U.S. in 1988.”So this disease came about due to exposure to a type of antibiotics. Interesting. Seems to be a problem associated with modern medicine, you fix one thing and create a problem with something else.

Mel December 28th, 2010 at 4:02 am · Reply This is what you call false imprisonment. They imprisoned her for no reasonable cause. They also caused distress to her and her family. I hope she sues them for damages. This is blatant thuggery.

Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
December 28th, 2010 at 2:30 pm · Reply False imprisonment is precisely right, I think, from a legal standpoint. That is something that really must be litigated: is the TSA empowered to falsely imprison us.

JJ December 28th, 2010 at 4:48 pm · Reply We have seen the “enemy” & the “enemy” is us. Keep votin’ the same people in & you keep gettin’ the same results out! Any questions?!

Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
December 28th, 2010 at 5:47 pm · Reply But this is a system put in place by Bush and getting worse under Obama. So who do we vote for?

Nancy December 28th, 2010 at 10:36 pm · Reply Too bad they were wasting precious resources harassing her instead of watching out for terrorists. Scary to think of who’s in charge.

Ted Matia December 29th, 2010 at 11:04 am · Reply The TSA is the new Gestapo. Its going to get worse. We are a nation of blind citizens.
I try to tell my friends but some of them think I’m crazy.That video is so outrageous and disgusting the only way it could NOT be on every news channel is because of complicity the media.

Briana December 29th, 2010 at 11:32 am · Reply I travel frequently and have had many problems with security and the airlines. I have missed many flights over the years. When I visited the Philippines in 2008 I had some gold and silver coins and security detained me to inquire about those coins. We thought we missed our flight because by the time they let us go it was over an hour after our flight was scheduled to leave. But as our flight was late we still might have had time to make it. Cathay Pacific then threatened to “pull” our tickets (meaning we’d have to re-purchase brand new tickets). It ended up costing us 2 whole days of vacation and lots of aggravation.Other countries can be worse though. In the Philippines we have often been delayed for various reasons until we pay a bribe ($20 is sufficient) and then the problem goes away. But one time we were short cash and missed our flight since we had no bribe to offer.In Dublin we were trying to make a connecting flight but were directed by security personnel (who assured us we would not miss our flight) out of the security zone, made to wander through the entire terminal, back through customs and security, causing us to miss our flight and we ended up spending the entire night in the terminal.In Hong Kong we were brought into an interogation room and questioned repeatedly by various polite security people until we had missed our flight and were forced to kill about 10 hours waiting for the next flight.In Milan, Italy they gave us a hard time about our luggage. One of our check-ins was about 2 kilos over-weight and one of our carry-ons would not fit in the baggage size-check thing (the same airline, Aer Lingus, didn’t have a problem with that when we had left Boston or Barcelona). We had to purchase a smaller check-in and transfer our luggage to that, then we discarded some items from our overweight bag. We still had time to catch our flight but then security gave us a hard time about our camera bag. They detained us while they called an Aer Lingus rep and complained that we had too much baggage as they were counting our small camera bag as a carry-on. I don’t know why that was any of security’s concern, but the ensuing debate ended up being resolved in our favor. However we just missed that flight by a few minutes, costing us about a 5-hour delay.This is not even getting into canceled flights due to weather, delays due to too much air traffic (stacked planes circling over JFK for example) or delays and missed connections due to airline logistics (such as a thunderstorm in Cincinnati that grounded the plane that we were going to fly to from Boston to Las Vegas, thereby canceling that flight even though the weather in Boston was nice).My point is that this is the reality of air travel anywhere in the world. You have to suck it in and mentally prepare yourselves for untold hardships, and count your blessings if you don’t have any.

Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
December 29th, 2010 at 12:21 pm · Reply I don’t think we do have to “suck it up” particularly on domestic flights. Flying internationally we have to put up with whatever issues other countries impose. Some are too onerous and we can choose not to travel there. I have been delayed, searched, interrogated and generally jerked around through Central America, Eastern Europe (before the wall fell – the scariest being pulled off a train in the middle of the night at the Hungarian-Yugoslav border after all the other foreigners were allowed back on the train, unable to understand why my US passport set me apart or whether they would ever let me go), and the Middle East. I was even shot at traveling by boat in Nicaragua. But despite insane treatment (ordered to write down the name and address of everyone I had met in two months in Israel, which I refused to do), I have never had a stranger run her hands all over my body so I could fly except in the US. There is no justification for forcing me to let a stranger touch my breasts so I can fly two hundred miles in my own country.

Briana December 29th, 2010 at 1:40 pm · Reply Actually I agree with you. I didn’t mean to defend the TSA actions in this case. It was rude and inappropriate of them to make an example out of this young mother for whatever agenda they had. And I admire her for defending her baby’s right to safe milk. I was only pointing out that my attitude is basically to surrender to them and roll with the punches because I know they have the power and certain people love to have that power. And if you argue with them it only makes it worse.

Reed December 29th, 2010 at 8:46 pm · Reply Anyone alerted to this kind of treatment should make every attempt to identify the individuals involved by badge nunber or other characteristic and file suit for violation of a persons civil rights. Be sure to ask for JURY TRIAL.

Lauren January 1st, 2011 at 3:18 pm · Reply Reminds me of when I worked in the medical unit at the local detention center- the same “corrections officers” that were hired away by the TSA- they got off on humiliating and demeaning prisoners- same treatment of those unable to fight back. Sickening.

Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
January 1st, 2011 at 6:46 pm · Reply @Lauren, do you know if anyone has written anything on the rate of former corrections officers working for the TSA? I am very curious where TSA agents come from and coming from corrections would be no surprise at all. Do you know if there has been recruitment of corrections officers? Definitely an important piece of this puzzle.


Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
January 2nd, 2011 at 9:37 am · Reply No need to yell. I can hear you just fine. Turn off the cap lock.

ba January 2nd, 2011 at 1:31 am · Reply TSA = Traitors, Stasi actors
Our Constitution: “….all enemies, foreign or domestic,” they are talking about you TSA.TSA and Homeland (fake)Security, the domestic wolves terrorizing and herding the sheeple.


Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
January 2nd, 2011 at 9:36 am · Reply Have you tried calling your Congressperson? On important issues, it helps to both call and write, particularly if you think your representative doesn’t think s/he is actually your representative.

Sonja January 2nd, 2011 at 4:58 pm · Reply We all are losing our freedom and rights a little each day until we have no rights left to take away. But the sad thing is everyone has something to say about it, but only 1% of us are really willing to try to do something to stop it. The government knows this!, if your not willing to be active in controlling your own government then you have no right to complain. Everyone likes to turn their heads the other direction and pretend nothing is wrong, that is until one day when it becomes personnel. What the hell happened to us we are Americans, we never run from a fight, or let anyone just walk all over us. Why are we allowing our own government which we fund with our hard earned money do this to us in the name of safety. Bull-crap! we can protect ourselves like we always have in the past. I don’t need someone that doesn’t know me from Adam tell me what I need to be safe or what I can or cannot do. It’s time to clean house people.

lady January 2nd, 2011 at 5:13 pm · Reply fire the idiot sue the airlines… way out of line don’t take it

Tony January 3rd, 2011 at 3:25 am · Reply I can understand security but this is criminal, immoral
and been unjust,I am not from the USA, in early 2010 we came to the USA for a holiday for the first time. We thought highly of the USA until we went through the air ports.the department of homeland security is invasive disrespectful to passengers and there belongings. It’s time the American people speak out and correct the situation,for them self and there foreign visitors.if they are to flourish. Not satisfied to come back to revisit with present check in,out. American’s lost sad as the main American’s are great people. Please wake up.

rettsgem January 3rd, 2011 at 12:37 pm · Reply I believe the American people are awake for the most part, but out politicians are not hearing us. They don’t respond to phone calls or emails or petitions. I can see those who would do us harm seeing this and laughing themselves into convulsions. They don’t see damaged breast milk. They see the process of 1000 cuts working against us as they would have it to be. I’m glad I don’t have to fly anywhere now. I feel for those who do. I’m frustrated at how our politicians are so complacent about it. I know that all of them are not but too many are.

reality January 9th, 2011 at 12:46 am · Reply Hey, it’s an airplane; it’s not your house. If you want to bring breast milk, an oversized stroller that you knew wouldn’t fit in the overhead, a wolverine or whatever else you can pretty much expect some kind of hassle.And x-raying a bottle of milk isn’t going to have any effects on a person who drinks it. It passes through the milk. Nothing is left behind. The worst that happens is some electrons get knocked out of orbit, and that happens on the atomic level. It’s not like it leaves some Chernobyl inside a body to churn out radiation.Here’s an idea – stop flying. Seriously, where do you have to go that bad?

Twitter: Jakearyehmarcus
January 9th, 2011 at 10:57 am · Reply Where does she have to go that is that important? How about work. And this is far more than “some kind of hassle.” How about you want to go to the corner (leaving your house) to buy some milk. But on the way some federal employees detain you for an hour just because they don’t like you. You don’t know if or when you will be released. You don’t know when you will see your infant son again. A little hassle? Or a constitutional rights violation?

jjtorr January 13th, 2011 at 1:44 pm · Reply It seems as though the problem is with TSA and how they train employees and their lack of response to swiftly disciplining those involved. There was a comment about the problem being that TSA hires former corrections officers. That would really have little to do with the problem and would be actually helpful in actual attempts of terror. Bottom line TSA was wrong and needs to change how they treat mothers who breast feed. I have taken my pump with me many times and fortunately have only had to address gnorant questions about what the device is used for….but as women we should be actively educating people about this problem.