Have Breast Pump, Will Travel

I have tried really hard to avoid business travel while the kids are this young, but I could not really say no to a same day, to Boca Raton and back business development trip. I had it all planned out, no problem, and then — British terrorists got caught trying to blow up planes with liquid explosives, and the whole air travel system got thrown into chaos. The TSA banned liquids on all domestic flights. How the heck was I going to get my pumped milk home for the day?

I desperately posted to a bunch of mommy boards and lists hoping to get some guidance. The rules seemed to have an exception for breast milk and formula, but only if the baby is traveling as well. After hearing the story of another mom who got her milk and ice thrown away, I decided I had to check the milk.

I checked my Medela pump in style traveler backpack. I put three blue ice packs in the standard issue black cooler bag, which made it too full to hold the usual bottles. So I transferred the milk to bags after pumping so there was more room for ice and more of the milk was in contact with the ice. I think that helped a lot.

I am happy to report that despite having to leave the bag in the rental car in the hot Boca Raton sun between noon and 3 (in for a penny, in for a pound!), the cooler packs were still cold (though no longer frozen) and my milk was still cold when I finally got home at 8:30 pm. I packed my bag and left the house at 7 am, so they were good for more than 12 hours! I had a bit of a scare when I arrived at my destination in that my pump did not seem to be on the carousel at first, but the baggage collectors found me, thank goodness. I had to pump at the airport before checking the bag for the return flight (whereas my original plan before the ban was to pump once I was through security and checked in, and I had set the flight times with that in mind). That made me cut things a bit closer than I would have liked with heightened security.

The funny thing to come out of the whole ordeal was that a reporter happened to be on one of the lists to which I posted my original query, and contacted me. My story ended up being part of a larger story on liquid ban hassles in the Washington Post [.pdf].

After the article appeared, I learned that the pump was slightly damaged when I had checked it. The faceplate broke, and it reduced the suction but didn’t totally get rid of it — enough of a problem that it seriously affected my output, but not so much that I was able to figure out what the issue was right away. I had to order directly from Medela, eight bucks for the part, but more than three times that for overnight shipping. I’ve made a request to the airline for reimbursement. We’ll see what happens.

So to anyone who Googles travel with breast milk after liquids ban and finds this page, my advice would be checking your milk is fine with plenty of ice, try to carry on your pump if at all possible, and if you must check it, remove the face plate first.

One thought on “Have Breast Pump, Will Travel”

  1. Hi there, still paying attention to this? Appears TSA lifted some of the liquid ban, but not for breast milk for travel without child. I’m posting this here and Washington Post site in case if helps others…

    Here’s my experience of traveling Sept. 1 – Sept. 8 on American Airlines through several major cities in case it helps. It was a very, very challenging trip.

    Preparation: Packed sturdy cooler with enough space to store individual bags of breastmilk for weeklong trip along with 1 large and 1 small freezer pack and put in checked luggage. At the hotel, I pre-requested an individual mini fridge to freeze the packs and store milk. Plan to carry Medela pump bag with parts and hand pump parts on to plane.

    Then for travel:

    I carry on my Medela pump bag through at least 5 airports with no problem (Austin, Chicago, LaGuardia, BWI and Dallas). Bag gets detailed search in Austin, Tx and BWI where they have to assess what’s inside the bag, including the pump component.

    The milk:

    Depart Austin, Tx (ABIA): TSA checks for liquids at main security gates but not within the secured area. They make an announcement and that’s it. I board with no liquids whatsoever.

    Transfer in Chicago, Ill.: I pump at airport (family restroom) and store milk in my Medela bag. There is no announcement and no bag check within the secured area.

    Depart Laguardia NYC: store milk in cooler, layering the bags on top of each other. zip up cooler and store inside checked luggage that also has clothes and files/paper. No one searches my carry-on for liquids, though none in my bags. But there is several announcements not to bring liquids into the secured area. No other checks within secured area.

    ~2 hours later, arrive in D.C., and a few bags of milk (some frozen, some not) have ripped from the pressure and spilled milk into my things. But most of the milk made it okay.

    Depart BWI: pack week’s worth of individual bags of milk in cooler, some frozen, some not, with two frozen cold packs, inside my checked luggage. I wrap socks/small clothing items around the milk bags this time in hopes it won’t rip. It helps.

    At the airport, they check for liquids at the main security gates and TSA sets up impromptu checks at the actual gates within the secured areas. I see them pulling any bottles, liquids, out of people’s bags and tossing it. So I wait to hand pump until I am on the plane (yes, that’s a tiny restroom, but I did it before takeoff and during flight).

    Our flight is dlayed and my bags don’t make my connection. But arrived on the next (and last) flight that night.

    The milk arrives ~12 hours after I packed it in my luggage in great shape. No spills. Some of the frozen milk was slightly defrosted, but all cold. When I complained about my missing bag to the AA agents, however, they could care less. So if the bag is lost, don’t hope for any sympathy. Lucky for me, it came on the next flight, which was the last flight home that night.

    By the way, I realized later that I got through BWI/Dallas Love all with mosturizer in my purse. Oh well.

Leave a Reply