Julia Bernstein, a 32 year-old, New York based flight attendant for Virgin America, said she was fired from her job on June 2, “because I asked a lady who was breast feeding in one of the last rows to please cover up,” on a recent full-flight from Los Angeles to New York.
“With the constant line for the bathroom being right over her, people were feeling uncomfortable and asked me to have her cover up,” said Bernstein. “The lady’s breast was out and revealed everything.”
In a telephone interview this morning, Bernstein told me said that she asked the breastfeeding mom if she had a blanket. “I tried to be matter of fact and said, “Well, you need to cover up.”
Shortly afterwards, Bernstein said the woman’s husband became upset and asked if covering up while breastfeeding was an airline policy or if she made it up. “He said what I was doing was illegal. I told him it was not a policy, I was just trying to fix a situation,” said Bernstein.
The lead flight attendant then stepped in. “She talked to the husband and said they were fine,” said Bernstein.
But evidently they were not.
“The reason Virgin fired me is because they felt I did not apologize enough to the passenger or deal properly with the situation, even though there is no proper training by Virgin America on how to deal with this type of a situation,” said Bernstein.
Abby Lunardini, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Virgin America said that for privacy reasons the airline cannot disclose specifics of the termination but shared this statement:
“Our in-flight teammates are trained to deal with a number of situations in-flight, including this one. We absolutely do accommodate breastfeeding mothers in-flight. If a situation should arise where fellow guests are uncomfortable, our teammates are also trained to try to re-seat the guest uncomfortable with the situation.”
Bernstein appeared in a commercial for the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) that aired during “Fly Girls,” a reality TV show featuring four Virgin America flight attendants that aired for less than two months in 2010. She also said she’d been reprimanded before for what a passenger considered to be an inappropriate remark in response to complaints about an item on the in-flight menu and, after being late for a flight, was on probation.
In this situation, however, Bernstein feels she used “good judgment acted appropriately and did what any good flight attendant would have done.”
Telling a breastfeeding mother to cover up is a sensitive and potentially costly issue for airlines. In March, Delta Air Lines and two other airline companies reached a settlement with Emily Gillette, who in 2006 was ordered off a plane in Vermont when she refused to cover herself up while breastfeeding her baby.
In response, outraged mothers staged “nurse-ins” at close to 20 other airports.