MONTPELIER, Vt. – Twenty-four-old college student Valarie Roney doesn't have children, but she plans to park herself at an Atlanta airport "nurse-in" just the same — just on principal.
Pregnant mother Ashley Clark, 26, of Calverton, N.Y., accompanied by her 2-year-old son, will do the same in New York.
Others irate over the ejection of a nursing mother from a Delta Air Lines commuter flight in Burlington plan similar actions Tuesday at more than a dozen airports around the country. Among them: New York, Baltimore, Detroit, Nashville, Tenn., Minneapolis and Las Vegas.
"This is not an isolated incident," said Roney, of Carrollton, Ga. "It's every day in every city, people walking up to women feeding their babies, saying 'You shoud go to the bathroom,' or 'You should put a blanket over her.' They wouldn't want to eat in a bathroom or eat lunch with a blanket over their heads."
Emily Gillette, 27, filed a complaint last week against Delta Air Lines and Freedom Airlines over the Oct. 13 incident at Burlington International Airport. In it, Gillette was breast-feeding daughter River, 1, aboard the New York-bound plane when a flight attendant tried to hand her a blanket and told her to cover up.
When Gillette balked, she and her husband were ordered off the plane before takeoff, triggering a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission, a "nurse-in" last week at that airport and now the "national nurse-in," which is scheduled for 10 a.m. local time at 19 airports from Anchorage to Islip, N.Y.
Freedom Airlines, which operated the commuter flight for Delta, has said Gillette was offered a chance to reboard the plane and declined it. The female flight attendant involved has been disciplined, and the company says its policy is to allow breast-feeding on planes.
The case of Gillette has struck a chord.
Many states — including Vermont — protect a woman's right to nurse her child in public. When someone gets in trouble for it, it can lead to very public protests, like the one outside ABC headquarters in New York last year after Barbara Walters of "The View" said the sight of a woman breast-feeding next to her on a plane made her uncomfortable.
"It's really touched a nerve — the circumstances were so extreme and outrageous, in many people's minds," said attorney Elizabeth Boepple, Gillette's lawyer. "It involves something so many of us can relate to, and it involves air travel and the almost arbitrary decision to remove a passenger from a plane. It has a whole range of factors that have really hit home with people."
According to organizers, the protests were all planned for 10 a.m. local time at Delta ticket counters at airports in the following cities: Anchorage, Alaska; Burlington, Vt., Tucson, Ariz.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Hartford, Conn.; Atlanta; Louisville; Baltimore; Detroit; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Albuquerque, N.M.; Columbus, Ohio; Nashville, Tenn.; Portland, Ore.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Washington; New York, Las Vegas; Islip, N.Y.
"Delta fully supports a mother's right to breastfeed her baby onboard," said Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton. "We very much regret their decision to remove the passenger from the flight."
Asked how the airline would handle the protests, she said Delta would work to make sure customers get checked in and board their flights on time.
Gillette intends to participate in one of the nurse-ins, but hadn't decided which by late Monday. She wanted to do so as a way of thanking those who've rallied behind her, she said.
"I'm really touched. It feels really good to have this support," she said. "There's people who are appalled that I brought this horror to the state of Vermont and don't know how awful it is to have your rights violated. Because of the attention it's gotten and the arguments for and against, it's clearly not the cultural norm yet."