Breastfeeding tweet burns Delta Airlines

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A Delta airplane at a gate in Amsterdam.Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Delta flies hundreds of thousands of breasts around the world each day

When Lindsay Jaynes tweeted Delta Airlines's customer service account last Friday asking about its policy regarding breastfeeding her infant on an upcoming flight, the response sparked a social media firestorm.

"Lindsay unfortunately you are not able to breast feed if you don't have a cover up," the airline representative tweeted. "I'm sorry."

Parenting blogs picked up on the story, noting that 45 states have laws allowing women to breastfeed in public. After hours of uproar, Delta tweeted a generic apology: "Delta welcomes breastfeeding mothers and babies on our flights. We sincerely apologize for the misinformation."

Despite the clarification from Delta, many breastfeeding advocates are still angry, calling for the airline to publish its official policy on breastfeeding and improve training of customer relations staff.

"Delta is currently trying to backpedal its way out of this public relations nightmare, but moms observe, listen and remember when one of their own is discriminated against," writes Monica Beyer on the blog She Knows Parenting.

Jessica Martin-Weber on her blog, the Leaky Boob, recalls a 2006 incident when a woman on a Delta commuter flight in Vermont was forced off her flight because she refused to cover herself with a blanket while breastfeeding. She sued the airline and received an out-of court settlement.

"This is why breastfeeding needs to be normalized, as silly as that may sound," Martin-Weber writes. "It is also why discrimination against mothers, regardless of how they feed their children, needs to stop."

Kelly Kautz, on her blog One Woman Marketing, noticed an earlier Delta promotional tweet about the often-debauched Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans that in hindsight seems particularly tin-eared given its recent misstep:

"Flash us your … smile & book now to celebrate #MardiGras in #NOLA," read the tweet. "Save us some beads!"

"So... it's fine to flash your boobs in public, as long as you're not feeding your child," Kautz writes. "I shouldn't be surprised. Society has been sending this mixed message to mothers for generations. But to have it so demonstrated so clearly, on the social media feed of a major airline, is mind-blowing."

US culture, from Girls Gone Wild exploits to flesh-laden advertising, glorifies breasts as sex objects. It's an association that pro-breastfeeding groups are fighting against.

"Breastfeeding is NOT a sexual act," breastfeeding advocate Mayim Bialik, who plays Amy Farrah Fowler on the TV show The Big Bang Theory, recently told Huffington Post.

There is no doubt that breastfeeding makes some people uncomfortable. The result is that, by becoming the public face of public breastfeeding, Lindsay Jaynes's Twitter feed has exploded with opponents blaming her for the row with Delta.

"When you're comfortable with men flopping their winkies at you, then you can flop your boobs around," tweeted Florida-based talk radio host Ray Junior.

Others called her "quite disrespectful" and said she was baiting Delta to "create a firestorm" and needed to "grow up".

Funny, feeding a baby seems like a pretty grown-up thing to do.