ATLANTA, GA — The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has proved nothing short of challenging for flight attendants and staff of major U.S. airlines. Often, their struggles surround an unprecedented spike in unruly flyers threatening to push them to the brink. But on a recent flight from Syracuse, New York, to Atlanta, one passenger reportedly decided to take things to what these harried flight crew members can rightly describe as a new level of bizarre.
The passenger — a woman on a Delta Airlines flight — started to breastfeed her pet cat midflight, according to a report by Newsweek. Not only that, she refused to stop after getting caught, the report said.
Neither the airline nor its ground customer service team have confirmed the feline faux pas; however, a screenshot of a message detailing the reported event has been circulating online. Flight crew sent the message via the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, used by pilots to transmit short text-based messages to the ground.
The message says that a passenger in seat 13A “is breastfeeding a cat and will not put cat back in its carrier” after a flight attendant asked the person to stop. Upon landing, the message also requests assistance from the airline’s “Red Coat” team.
According to Delta, members of the Red Coat team are “elite airport customer service experts specially trained to handle on-the-stop customer issues.”
A flight attendant who witnessed the event unfold shared her take on TikTok, Newsweek reported.
“This woman had one of those, like, hairless cats swaddled up in a blanket, so it looked like a baby,” Ainsley Elizabeth said in a video posted Nov. 13, Newsweek reported. “Her shirt was up, and she was trying to get the cat to latch, and she wouldn’t put the cat back in the carrier. And the cat was screaming for its life.
“What does she do at home if she’s doing that in public?” she continued. “And then security met the flight just to tell her that she couldn’t do that again, ’cause it was weird and gross.”
Weird and gross?
Maybe, but before you get judgy, know this: It’s not actually that unusual for humans to breastfeed animals.
Many parts of the world have a long history of women nursing animals. The act can be traced as far back as to the ancient Romans and Persians, The Washington Post reported.
Authors who have written extensively on the evolution of pets argue that, with some exceptions, breastfeeding of animals was, at one time, found nearly worldwide, according to Psychology Today.
The types of animals fed, however, varied geographically. On the Malay Peninsula, women nursed baby pigs, dogs and monkeys, and they usually returned them to the wild once the animals were grown. On the Japanese islands of Hokkaido and Sakhalin, Ainu women suckled bear cubs. The Ainu venerated bears and ceremonially ate them.
One explanation, the authors note, is that nearly all groups known for nursing animals did not have domesticated milk-producing animals; hence, there was no alternative source of milk for orphaned mammals.
It works the other way, too. There are plenty of real-life, documented examples of animals suckling human babies.
French mothers let their babies suckle from goats, Deborah Valenze wrote in “Milk: A Local and Global History.” In the 18th century, orphans — some of whom had syphilis — were sometimes held to the udders of animals kept on-site just for feeding.
Still, it may be best to leave breastfeeding on a plane as a moment between a mother and her human child.
No federal laws prohibit mothers from breastfeeding their human babies during flight. Delta policy also allows breastfeeding during flights, though it seems unlikely the policy would extend to the breastfeeding of non-human animals.