The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that new mothers exclusively breastfeed for six months and in 2010 a change to the Fair Labor Standards Act proved helpful for women returning to work that wanted to continue to breastfeed. Employers now must provide a reasonable break time and location for a nursing mom to pump breast milk. But at least one group doesn’t fall under that federal law: female pilots.
NBC4’s Mikaela Hunt discovered a pilot in Columbus who wanted to continue to fly commercial planes after she had a child but knew that keeping up her breast milk supply would be a challenge. Brookelyn Rambadt was trying to have a baby and contacted the Airline Pilots Association, her union, about the challenge she could foresee down the road. Airline pilots, according to Rambadt, are not governed by the Fair Labor Standards Act. Instead, their work falls under the Railway Labor Act and there is no provision inside that federal law for nursing mothers.
“If you have a three- to four-hour flight, where are you going to go? You’re kind of stuck in the cockpit. I wouldn’t feel comfortable pumping up in the cockpit and the FAA really doesn’t… They kind of frown on it, anyway,” Rambadt told Hunt.
Rambadt was also worried about refrigerating her milk at a consistent temperature to keep it safe while she was on the road. Pilots can be gone between four and six days for work, flying three to five legs a day. So, she wrote a letter that ALPA handed over to the airline she worked for at the time, American Eagle. Rambadt is from Central Ohio but at the time was based out of Chicago for the company. Rambadt suggested an unpaid leave of absence beyond her maternity leave so she could breastfeed a baby, once she was pregnant and delivered a child.
“I gave it to a union representative who forwarded it to a management member of the company and I just didn’t receive any response back for it,” she told Hunt.
We asked if she was disappointed by the response.
“Yeah. I was overly optimistic thinking I could make a change and I pushed it a couple of times and I never got a response,” she said.
NBC4 contacted ALPA, the pilots’ union, to find out why they didn’t get an answer for Rambadt. ALPA told Hunt, “the decision is ultimately the company’s call unless the law changes.”
We tried numerous times to get an interview or a detailed statement from Envoy. American Eagle changed their name to Envoy since Rambadt made her request. We received this statement from the Vice President of Human Resources:
“We fully support our employees who breastfeed and work with them on a case-by-case basis to address their needs.”
The company added, “We handle employee matters privately and do not discuss any details in the media.”
We presented their statement to Rambadt, to get her perspective.
“They say that we work with employees on a case-by-case basis to address their needs? Well. I didn’t receive a response, so they didn’t address my needs.”
Rambadt adds, “There are things more important in life than the daily grind sometimes and I think whatever they can do to have mothers nurse their babies is good for everybody.”
Currently, there’s a prediction of a global shortfall of pilots and aviation professionals through 2030. Female pilots represent only six percent of the total pilot population, according to Women in Aviation International. Rambadt said she thinks the airline industry would want to do everything it could to recruit women into its’ ranks and address this concern.
She switched jobs before she got pregnant with Harvey, her now five month old son, because she never heard back from American Eagle or ALPA. She is now working at a training facility in Columbus and no longer flying commercially.
Rambadt believes that Congress will have to amend the Railway Labor Act before female pilots are able to easily continue to breastfeed when they return to work after having a baby. She has signed and is actively advocating for a petition on moveon.org that you can see right here. There are 1,800 signatures and counting. The signature aims to get Congress and President Obama to take a look at the Act and make amendments to it.