The Supreme Court this week is hearing a case against UPS after the company refused to lower the amount of heavy lifting required of a pregnant parcel sorter. This is a particularly egregious case of discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace. But another, perhaps less obvious breeding ground for discrimination is in the simple act of traveling for business. Employees of both genders are often asked to travel for work—some more than others—and for pregnant women, this can be extremely challenging.
For starters, it’s just uncomfortable having to squeeze into the small airplane seats and stay seated for the duration of the flight. And then there’s the X-ray scanners. Pregnant women have to endure questioning by TSA for refusing to go through the scanners.
Morra Aarons Mele, the founder of WomenOnline/The Mission List, pointed out yet another struggle for pregnant business travelers—frequent flier programs. Mele is expecting her third child and thus had to put a hold on flying during the last two weeks of her pregnancy. “Knowing that many frequent flier programs have year-end deadlines for collection and rollover, I decided to call the programs in which I have status and see if I could put the deadlines on hold until I have the baby and am able to start flying again,” Mele wrote in a Medium post.
The response from airlines was a loud no.
Despite the fact that Mele only has two flights left to qualify for Silver Preferred status on US Airways for 2015, the airline would not let her put the status on hold until she’d be able to fly again, nor would it let her just pay for the two flights. American Airlines said she could “repurchase status lost at the end of 2014.” Virgin America and Delta didn’t have any “maternal leave” policies either. The one airline that did have a maternal leave policy was British Airways, which offered to put Mele’s miles on hold if she sent them a doctor’s note.
While it may not be obvious for airlines to have a maternal leave policy, the subtle impact it has can be huge for an expecting mother. Small setbacks like losing frequent flier status add up to make the life of a female business traveler that much more difficult. “Regressive policies like US Airways’ help keep women back,” Mele wrote. “Frequent flier status is a subject of near obsession for business travelers, and with good reason. It’s not about perks, but about making life on the road bearable. If you don’t have status in the world of airlines, you probably won’t make it out of Chicago in a snowstorm in time for that big meeting, or get home for your family. It’s a big deal.”
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