Flight attendant fired for breastfeeding cover-up comment


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.

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26 thoughts on “Flight attendant fired for breastfeeding cover-up comment

  1. kristin says:

    i think what i like the most about a lot of these comments, is that everyone is talking about how narcissistic and how these nursing mothers are creating children who only think of themselves and know one else.

    ok.. so you are offended.
    what makes these feeling not the same as these supposed narcissistic selfish uncovered nursing mothers.

    because they are feeding a child and you simply can not accept what you may have seen and let it go. A child is eating. You are probably shopping or whatever else. But obviously your FEELINGS are more important then that baby eating and that mother and child doing what they need to do. Its crazy to me that people can not rationalize such a site.
    But i understand its only ok to see a breast in a sexual way. magazines, tv/movie, ect.

    our society is truly sad.

    do i think the flight attendant should of been fired? probably not unless there really is more to the story of why she got fired.

  2. FourMonkeys4me says:

    I cannot believe some of the comments here.

    I love that someone believes an INFANT has control over it’s parents. LOL!!!

    Seriously, it’s a baby.

    Do you eat with a cover over your head? Oh, no? Perhaps you should try. Oh hey, do you eat your meals in a public bathroom too? Hey, wait, what? You don’t. Geez, maybe you should try that too.

    This society kills me. It’s okay to walk around topless, ONLY IF a baby ISN’T attached. It’s okay for you to have every piece of skin hanging out- Only if a baby isn’t attached.

    People, time to wake up! Breasts are meant to be used to nourish our children. SHOCKING, I know!

    Time to de-sexualize them and grow up.

  3. Who's Entitled? says:

    I love the irony in people complaining about a breastfeeding mom’s sense of entitlement, while they are expecting people to modify their behavior on their behalf because it makes them uncomfortable. I’m vegan and seeing dead animal flesh makes me uncomfortable and yet I have never felt entitled enough to ask anyone to cover up their shoes on my behalf. No one is forcing you to look. Most of the time you can’t see a whole lot anyways for longer than a few seconds while the baby latches and then comes off at the end of the feeding. I also find it amazing that up until about 60 years ago, no one thought twice about seeing a mother feed her child, people did it in public all the time. Everyone understood that babies are HUNGRY creatures. Now in 2012 it considered borderline scandalous. Yay for progress :/

  4. Alexia says:

    comparing nursing, feeding one’s child, to urination and defecation is appalling. even those who have breastfed should know better. seriously people, get a grip.

  5. flightbomb says:

    As a Flight Attendant and yes, MAMMAL. I encourage all women to breastfeed and NOT be ashamed- no matter where you are. The breast is a NORMAL and NATURAL part of the body and maybe if more people saw what breasts are INTENDED for then we wouldn’t fetishize them and immediately connect them with sexuality- every time we see one! Yes, maybe you don’t want to see it. Then don’t look! If you don’t think you should HAVE to avert your eyes and you have the RIGHT to look wherever you please, then go ahead and LOOK. I can guarantee that if the woman breastfeeding is exposing her breast, then she is comfortable enough with people staring that she is NOT gong to think you’re a weirdo for glancing or even staring. Pretend it’s a damn elbow if it makes you THAT uncomfortable. It’s a baby- eating, that’s it. Part of the reason women breastfeed is because it’s SO convenient. A woman should NOT be expected to pump and bring a bottle onto an airplane to supply the EXACT same milk that she can readily provide from her breast- especially with the 3 oz.s or less limitations imposed by the TSA (and yes, breastmilk and some medications are exempt but we all know the TSA has a WONDERFUL track record for following policy and being consistent :0) just because a FEW people are uncomfortable. Get over it people, we ALL have breasts- even men. Just b/c womens’ breasts have a little more fat under the skin and sometimes milk doesn’t really make them that much different. Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing that people get uncomfortable with because it’s so native. Our high and mighty civilization doesn’t like to be reminded that we are all animals and share the way we feed our young with other mammals. We are animals,, we are HUMAN, get over yourselves. Let’s turn the tables- I’m offended every time I see a mother feeding an infant formula from a bottle; I find it disgusting, unnatural and repulsive. Plus, if you do appreciate breasts- they’re a much more attractive container than a bottle!

  6. Paala says:

    I hope you don’t mind if I shared your story on my blog –

    I was initially confused by why this airline attendant was fired, rather than trained after the incident, but apparently she was trained properly but didn’t act according to the training.

    And breastfeeding is in no way comparable to urinating. Come on now. Read Every argument against NIP debunked –

  7. LetsbeHonestHere says:

    [Edited by site moderator]

    This Flight Attendant Julia obviously is not telling the whole story nor her work history. No company is going to fire someone for just asking a parent to “cover up”. I’m sure she has an entire history that led up to her being let go. Breast feeding should not bother anyone and of course until someone is a parent,you won’t understand the natural beauty of breast feeding your baby.

  8. ShameOnYou says:

    [Comment shortened by moderator]

    The gal who was fired, was put into a position that the company she worked for should have protected her from. Shame on the company that fired her for trying to be respectful of hundreds of other gawking, uncomfortable passengers. Completely disgusting in my opinion.

  9. WhoIsTheParent? says:

    I firmly believe that some of you parents are what’s wrong with our children today, you walk around with the same self entitlement attitude that you are teaching your children. Who has the role of the parent and who has the role of the child? YOU ARE THE PARENT, if your kid doesn’t like something, then too bad. YOU ARE THE PARENT. If your child doesn’t like to be covered up during breast feeding, bring a bottle of pumped milk. There are endless solutions, but you mother’s are thinking so narrow-minded and act so “offended” when someone doesn’t want to see your breasts hanging our of your shirt, that your first reaction is “what’s wrong with that guy?” instead of, “oh, right, he/she may not be as comfortable with seeing my breasts as I am…”, it is not ALL about YOU and your CHILD when you are in public. You are doing your children a HUGE diservice by allowing them to act in any manner they so choose without any repercussions. Buck up parents, and be the grown up, set clear boundaries and rules. Your children will thank you for it later. Mine have.

  10. KateLC says:

    People can be as uncomfortable as they want but her husband was right breast feeding is Protected by federal law. As for covering up some babies refuse to eat with a blanket or nursing cover over their heads and and frankly I wouldn’t want to eat like that either, same thing goes for people who tell mothers to go to a bathroom stall- would YOU want to eat your meal there? Didn’t think so.

  11. nichole says:

    First off, if u want to have a well rounded debate on whether something is decent or not than please choose your words more carefully and respectfully. I think u sound like trash when you have to use the word tit instead of breast while you are talking about an incredibly natural and unbelievably healthy act. Second, would you rather a screaming child, because I will tell you that I breastfeed my son and he pushes off any cover I put on him. Could you imagine having something over YOUR head whiner your will while you are eating. So if it is a choice between my child being upset or a stranger being uncomfortable, I choose the stranger being uncomfortable. I just hope all of you that are so uncomfortable with this refrains from watching anything above a pg rating then and also tells half of these teenage girls to put some more clothes on. And one last thing, the comment comparing breastfeeding to going to the bathroom is truly one of the most uneducated responses to anything that I have heard in a LONG time. Your lack of knowledge truly sickens and saddens me.

  12. Sarah says:

    I think most of the people that have commented here have failed to consider the baby involved… I nursed two children until 15-18 months. Both of them REFUSED to allow me to “cover-up” after about 3 months… They would scream and rip the cover off. So – would you rather I feed my baby and have them be quiet, or try to cover them up and have them scream their bloody heads off for the duration of the flight??? GET OVER IT people.

  13. DropYourEntitlementAttitudeNow says:

    This is not news, nor should it ever be. Too many people are too wrapped up in their own little world to even consider another person’s feelings. These parents are getting their fifteen minutes of fame at the expense of another person. Here’s a news flash: most people don’t want to see a woman’s floppy tits with a baby attached, sucking away. And for what is is worth, breastfeeding is something all mammals can do. This is not a special ability exclusive to humans.

  14. Kristine says:

    Shame on the people who were uncomfortable with it in the first place.

    Uh-oh, the Thought Police are at it again! Shame on people for having FEELINGS that are WRONG! Oh, spare us. Cover up and show some decency. People are so narcissistic these days.

  15. Peace says:

    If showing tits isn’t a problem, then I’ll just pull be boobs out of my shirt and sit there naked. Wanna bet that I’ll be told to cover up? And my breasts are perky and tiny, too!

    if it’s not right for me to sit there bare-chested, then it’s not right for a nursing mother, either! you have no sense of modesty and appropriateness!

    And, if some men are staring at your boobs on display, well, you ASKED for ti by showing them, so don’t complain if they gawk!

  16. Naomi says:

    Really people? Nursing is great. Lots of benefits for both mom and baby. Nurse your kid all you want. But for the Love of Pete, I do not need to see your boob. A stray nip slip is unavoidable (I nursed mine.) But get a Hooter Hider or something. Your child will not be scared for life and you will have done society a big favor, not to see your naked boob!

  17. Flight attendant says:

    So you’re saying that because breastfeeding is perfectly natural, it’s okay? As another person mentioned, urinating and defecating is perfectly natural as well. Or how about when someone puts their feet on the tray table that you eat on, and clips their toe nails on it… I mean, it’s borderline disgusting not to at least maintain your toenails, so hey… why not encourage that as well? A breast is a breast.. whether a child is attached to it or not. If you’re proud of breastfeeding, great. I’m proud of you. But no need to ‘wear it on your sleeve,’ so to speak…

    I’m proud that I am a male who can pee standing up and hit my mark every time. You don’t see me sharing those skills in public, now do you?

  18. Rosie says:

    There was no issue to address here. “If breast-feeding on a plane offends you, then please pull a blanket over YOUR head.”

  19. Amanda says:

    I think it is harsh for the woman to be fired because of this, if that is the reason, however she did not use good judgement or handle the situation appropriately. I used to be a flight attendant and am a breastfeeding mother and I would have NEVER asked someone to cover up and would be giving someone an earful if they ever asked me to cover up

  20. Cranny says:

    This flight attendant was fires at the feat opportunity to do so because of her pro union stance. Virgin America does NOT look out for its employees and allows their guests to complain about everything no matter how rediculous . Virgin rewards high maintenance guests and does nothing to back their employees when guests complain. Could this have been handled differently? Yes but reseating a guest may not have been an issue on a flight that is usually filled to capacity. Shame on virgin America!

  21. JJ says:

    I’m sorry I disagree…I’ve had multiple incidents on the airplane where a nursing mother’s hubby (2 in the past 6 months), got irate at other men (mostly early to mid 20’s for gawking). Well I’m sorry, if you’re going to heave a breast out there because its your right, well then, its their right to stare. There is no law against looking at what you’re putting on display. Anyway….the two hubbys got ticked and it resulted on a guest on guest assault. All of which could have been avoided if a little discretion were put into play. Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Yes nursing is natural (I nursed both of mine until they were nearly 2), but so is defecating, but I have NO desire to see that happening either.

  22. I agree with PP. Shame on the people who were uncomfortable with it in the first place.

  23. Elizabeth says:

    Why mess with a nursing mother? I am a flight attendant and please nurse away, happily on my flight…heck I will even bring you a bottle of water….

  24. Sit down, sit up says:

    Shame on those people for complaining. Maybe if they had more breast milk themselves they wouldn’t make such brain-damaged comments 😉

    Of course the majority of flight attendants are genuinely nice but I wonder if some of them get on a power trip from all the bossing they do: turn that off, sit up, sit down, move your bag, buckle up, etc.

  25. amanda says:

    ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME?!?!?! I am sorry but as a flight attendant I dont want to see anyone’s tit either!!!!!!!!!!

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