March 2, 2012 — -- A mother in Hawaii was "humiliated" when she felt she needed to pump breast milk in the open area of an airport bathroom in order for a TSA agent to permit her to get through security with her breast pumping equipment.
"I'm in a dress, in heels and I find myself in front of a sink and mirrors with travelers coming in and out of the bathroom," Amy Strand told ABCNews.com. "I'm standing at the sink with my breast hanging out, pumping. I wanted to cry. I was humiliated."
Strand, 38, is a mother of four and principal at a public school in Maui. She frequently travels between islands for business and had never had a problem with the equipment before.
On Wednesday, as she was making her way through airport security at Lihue Airport in Kauai, she was stopped in security and an agent asked if he could look at the equipment. She obliged, and the agent opened her kit to find her pump, a cooler pack and empty milk bottles.
Strand said she had done "what no nursing mother wants to do" 20 minutes earlier and dumped out the milk in the bottles in order to avoid any hassle going through security. She never imagined that empty bottles would be the problem.
The agent told her the ice pack would not be allowed through security without milk in the bottles. Strand said the ice pack is specially made for the milk's cooler and would not be easy to replace.
"It really confuses me as to how an empty breast pump and cooler pack are a threat to national security and 20 minutes later, with milk, they no longer pose a threat to national security," Strand said incredulously.
She asked if there was a private place she could pump and was told there was not. The agent suggested she go to the public bathroom. Her electric pump required an outlet and there were no outlets in the stalls, so she had to use one in the bathroom's public area.
"There was no misunderstanding," Strand said. "I really only had two options: leave part of it behind or pump. And I'm not going to leave part of it behind because [the agent] doesn't know the police and procedures."
On the verge of tears, Strand said she returned to the line and was allowed to go through.
In a statement, the TSA acknowledged that the agent was mistaken in telling Strand that she could only bring the ice pack with her on the plane if it was medically necessary. A TSA official also said that the agent did not mandate that Strand go pump milk in the bathroom.
"The passenger has contacted us with her concerns and we accept responsibility for the apparent misunderstanding and any inconvenience or embarrassment this incident may have caused her," the statement said. "The officer in question is receiving remedial training."
"I think this agent exercised poor judgment and because of his poor judgment, I ended up humiliated," Strand said.
"I did speak personally with the head of the state of Hawaii TSA branch. He formally apologized to me and seemed very sincere and was very upset about what took place," she said. "If this can save another mom that same humiliation, it's worth talking about."