Friday, February 13, 2009

Best feeding

Every year or two I fly back to North America for a family reunion and this year, as my summer vacation approaches, I've started to fret about which airline to use. For the past 5 or 6 years we have flown with Korean Air (direct flights, smiling service, good food and, well, also because the air miles sort of sucked* us in**). So we fly Korean Air even though the incongruity is not lost on me - the fact that I, a card-carrying aviophobe, fly with an airline that former president Kim Dae Jung once referred to a "national disgrace" (after 11 airline accidents in a single decade) and which the United States Federal Aviation Administration (in 2001) decided to downgrade because of safety standards. Perhaps I'm a masochist? Secretly a thrill seeker? No. But I am a fan of people and organisations bettering themselves and KAL seems to have really improved standards. No more crashes, no more nasty runway incidents and, truly, I admire any team of flight attendants who can deal with tired travellers and secret smokers for 13 hours without faltering or breaking their pouring stride. Smile, smile, smile. Pour, pour, pour. They deserve my money.

But I'm starting to worry as summer approaches. My last trip home was on a crowded, noisy flight - direct to Toronto - and I was seated next to a middle aged gentleman who took a instant dislike to me and my offspring, constantly referred to me as "the foreigner", demanded a new meal (as in: different from mine), demanded a new seat, called the flight attendant a "18 yun" when she would not/could not find him a new seat - and finally stormed off to the washroom in a flurry of blustery cursing when I dared to BREASTFEED MY BABY. It was the breastfeeding that finally did him in, I think. He just sort of ... snapped and ranted and raved and ranted and raved. When we finally de-planed there were Serious Looking Officials detaining him at the exit gate, and as I scuttled past with my baby, I could hear him still freaking out about the indignities he was subjected to.

To the credit of the KAL staff, they were unfailingly polite to me, they apologised for the lack of extra seats, they remained firm but courteous to the ajjossi and did not get him a new meal. I find the fact that they did not give him a different meal most satisfying! But still. There's a part of me that wonders if that man would have been as openly rude to a Korean woman, or if breastfeeding would have been such a big deal on Air Scandinavia or something. I wonder if I should try a new airline this time. But not, you know, Delta Air.

Because this time - this time my baby is older - and can actually ask for milk. I'm not sure what will transpire if I'm seated next to an emotionally unstable man with a pronounced dislike of foreigners when my toddler says "Mama, can I have some 'latte'?". I'm not sure how sympathetic my flight attendants will be either. Breastfeeding is one of those grey areas that people don't really know how to categorize. Most people won't openly say that breastfeeding is wrong, or embarrassing or dirty - but it's still not considered table conversation; it's still spoken of in somewhat hushed tones, and we still use words like "nursing", politely and primly. Motherhood Uncensored has a great post up about a woman breastfeeding in Denny's and she rightly (I think) notes that "people are actually offended by the act of feeding a baby from the breast and just use the boob as an excuse. We're only annoyed with boobs when they're not doing what they've been told to do for way too many years - sit nicely in a push-up bra or pleasure our husband in the privacy of our own bedrooms".

Toddler nursing is even trickier and after my last trip home I'm starting to wonder if now mightn't be a good time to wean, or to switch airlines. Or - maybe I should just teach my child how to say "Gosh, this is really #@$% delicious! You should try some!" and see where that gets us. Perhaps, on a less crowded flight, we could get upgraded to Business Class.

The White Russians are on me!

** Because you never know when you might want a free hotel room in Waikiki.