Everybody deserves great service. Even United Airlines admits that.

But if there are a few categories of people who might deserve a little extra consideration, new moms and members of the U.S. armed forces would probably be near the top of the list. 

We can all agree on this right? 

We're not talking about over the top special treatment. Just a little bit of respect, and a little bit of acknowledgment that they're shouldering a bit of an extra load.

Unfortunately, according to a mom who is also an active duty member of the U.S. military, that was a little bit too much to ask for recently on a flight with United Airlines.

(This is the same United Airlines, you might recall, that just gathered thousands of its supervisors and rolled out its plan to become known as a "more caring," and "customer-centric airline.")

Kimberly West is a mom of three kids under 5 including an 8-month-old, and a member of the U.S. Air Force stationed in Virginia. She's nursing her baby, and so when she was sent by the military on a two-week deployment exercise in Hawaii, she wanted to keep pumping milk, and bring it home with her.

In the process, she developed mastitis, which can be very painful: "Terrible fevers and an excruciating pain while pumping," she wrote in a Facebook post (the full post is embedded below). "I went to the doctor and fought through."

It was tough, but she was understandably proud, and excited to get back to her family at the end of the exercise. She said she looked in vain for instructions on how to pack breast milk to be checked on United Airlines. 

So she packed the milk she'd stored in a sturdy cooler--400 ounces worth--and boarded a United flight home.

Her cooler of "liquid gold," as I've seen many new moms refer to breast milk, was a lot lighter when she landed back home. About 75 percent of the milk she'd checked was missing.

West was "distraught," she wrote on Facebook. She went straight to baggage customer service. There, things quickly got worse:

When I told the woman what happened she threw her hands in the air, rolled her eyes and stated, "And what exactly do you want me to do about lost breastmilk?! Who would want to steal THAT?" ... 

When her manager arrived she told me I could put in a claim but it probably wouldn't do me any good because breastmilk is free. I told her my time and energy was not free. She stated, "I can't repay you for your time."

The Facebook post started to go viral. Many people were supportive. Some were critical. In answer to two oft-asked questions, West told me:

  1. she brought it on the plane instead of mailing it home because postage from Hawaii would have been prohibitive, and
  2. she checked her breast milk because it was way too much to carry onto the plane comfortably.

Was the breast milk stolen? That would seem very odd, West agreed, but there had to be some explanation. She also told me she's heard from United twice, most recently on Sunday. 

There's no resolution yet, but she says the airline admitted that its customer service people's response at the airport was "unacceptable," and said it was working with "government agencies" to review all the video footage that might show what had happened to her breast milk. 

They're also negotiating what kind of compensation she should receive, West said. It's probably impossible to value her breast milk exactly, but it took time and effort.

Besides, she said, if the airline had lost her luggage with clothing in it, they'd pay some sort of restitution.

What she wants most out of this however, she said, is that all airlines--"not just United"--will come up with a policy or procedure for checking breast milk.

"It's ludicrous to me that there isn't [a visible policy]," West told me. "I'm not the first traveling working mom and I certainly won't be the last. If something like that can happen I will be able to feel better about the loss."

After the original version of this article was published, United Airlines offered a statement: 

"This incident is concerning, and we are working with our customer directly to resolve this issue. We are also working with the appropriate teams to learn more about what happened, including assisting the customers in filling a report with the TSA, which inspected her checked item."

Here's West's original Facebook post:

Published on: Feb 12, 2018
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