I promised to keep every one posted on the milk incident at Heathrow and so I just wanted to follow up with their response. I’ve received two responses from a spokesperson at Heathrow and have posted them in full in Part II of this post, below, mainly to help others out there that might be traveling with expressed milk (but without child).
A couple of takeaways so far from this whole experience:
1. I was indeed wrong in my understanding of the rules, but the rules aren’t as clear as one would think. Heathrow Airport, who’s rules I’ve recorded here and here, follows guidelines by the UK’s Department of Transport (whom I also consulted prior to my trip). Their guidelines (shown in full) are as follows:
- soya milk for babies
- sterilised water for the baby (must be in a baby bottle)
- formula, breast milk or cow milk specifically for babies
- baby food of various consistencies
These guidelines do not specify that as a baby has to be present, only that an adult has to be willing to taste (which I was willing to do). Nonetheless, I have learned from Heathrow that they receive additional guidelines which are not public, which to my understanding from the correspondence in Part II. This appears to be the source of a lot of confusion. Heathrow did not specify this on their rules page specifically, but it was indeed in the FAQ’s (where I did not check prior to the trip). I have made the case to them that most travelers would be looking for guidance in the rules section and not the FAQ section, and the airport is working to amend the website for greater clarity.
2. There is the separate issue then of whether this is a legitimate rule, but this is an issue for the UK’s Department of Transportation. Again, on their own website, it does not specify that a baby must be present, but it does say “take enough for the journey”. In my mind that does not mean the journey requires a baby. For me, enough for the journey means that I have enough for the next day of supplies to feed my child when I got home (the point of pumping in the first place), which is why hold luggage wasn’t really an option for me. The flight to Vienna is frequently late, and luggage is never guaranteed, and I was worried about the risk of the milk not arriving. Also, because I was convinced that breast milk was an exception based on my research (and not just for me, but for all mothers), I didn’t pack it appropriately to be placed in the hold, which requires sturdier packaging and in this weather, appropriate chill packs. Going forward I’ll have those items at the ready.
3. I don’t agree with these rules, but that’s a separate issue to be taken up with a separate party. Heathrow will continue to enforce it – and they will have to do so until the rules are changed from a Department of Transport point of view, so that’s where to direct efforts in terms of changing for the better. And it’s possible – TSA did it in the US, there’s not reason why it couldn’t be amended in the UK if it were deemed to be an equally safe way forward and if mothers, especially UK based ones speak up regarding this issue.
4. Despite my unpleasant experience at the actual airport, I have to commend Heathrow Airport in their response. They were very proactive about reaching out to me, and from what I understand in the emails and comments, they were also responsive to anyone who sent them a complaint. They will be working to do the following:
– Provide additional training around the issue of traveling with expressed milk, especially for women who are not actually traveling with children
– Provide any necessary steps to make sure the staff in question receive training and the necessary feedback/action
– Provide clearer indication at the security checkpoints themselves that the milk exception rules only apply if traveling with child (currently this is not marked at the airport, again more confusion)
– Provide greater clarity on the website on the issue of what’s allowed when traveling with a child vs. not
Again, for things to change further, this is something we’ll have to continue to take up with the Department of Transport.
5. In the meantime, for those traveling from or thru LHR, the rules for now state that you can travel:
– with quantities “for the journey” if you have a child, with specifics of what that means determined by security staff on a case by case basis
– if you don’t have a child, you are subject to the 100mL rules -meaning expressed milk has to be packaged in 100mL increments or less, and all increments have to fit into plastic quart bag of a specified size (see below)
– if you don’t have a child and are traveling with expressed milk above the allotted quantities, you’ll have to check the milk in your luggage. I haven’t tried this yet but I imagine I will when I return next month. I will try to place it in these containers which I normally use, packed with these chill packs and double bag in ziplocs. I’m on the search for a soft side cooler that could be packed in my roller board. Alternatively, some commenters have suggested freezing the milk before travel so that it is then considered a solid, but I’m not sure how that may apply to the rules.
Again, I wanted to thank everyone for their comments and emails and the overwhelming suport – it’s been wonderful to see I’m not the only one who’s had a hard time with this. And there have also been some that don’t necessarily agree with me, and I appreciate that as well – after all, nothing will change if there isn’t an element of debate, and I respect that there might differences of opinion.
So with that, please see part two for Heathrow’s response in full. Thoughts?
And for those that are more seasoned “milk travelers”, please contribute your ideas on what’s worked for you when it comes to traveling with milk to ensure that it arrives safely and without spillage?
Photo by The New Diplomat’s Wife.