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Sharing Best Practices in the Travelers Aid Family
From Band-Aids to Breast Pumps
Travelers Aid at Chicago O’Hare International Airport has been accommodating nursing mothers for the last 18 months. The agency invites nursing mothers to use its staff offices and it also has a breast pump available.
Travelers Aid also provides a variety of other items that a young family may need, especially if stranded by a flight delay. Diapers of all sizes, including for adults, are available. Supplies also include pacifiers and travel-size packets of all varieties of baby formula.
In July 2015, Travelers Aid provided space to 60 nursing mothers – an all-time monthly record. The staff has provided private space for up to 3 nursing mothers at one time.
The staff routinely logs passengers’ complaints and suggestions and tally these items into a monthly Top 5 list of requested, but unavailable, amenities. A nursing room has consistently been on this Top 5 list, according to Travelers Aid Senior Manager Carol King.
After seeing the consistent request, King said her group began making its facilities available. At one point, she said, the airport on its website directed nursing mothers to the Travelers Aid facilities.
Travelers Aid uses this monthly Top 5 listing to advocate to the city’s Department of Aviation for better passenger services. Travelers Aid Manager John Ishu said their volunteers also encouraged the nursing mothers to also contact aviation officials to request better facilities.
The airport responded this summer by providing a nursing room in Terminal 3 with plans to add additional rooms throughout the airport.
There is still demand for the Travelers Aid facilities since the airport’s room can only handle one mother at a time, King explained. The Travelers Aid space in Terminal 2 is centrally located among the domestic concourses – and near the new airport nursing room to provide assistance when the airport space is busy.
Mothers were reluctant to use the family or companion restrooms since these spaces lacked a place to sit or an electrical outlet for electric breast pumps.
Travelers Aid provides a breast pump to those mothers unexpectedly stranded at the airport. Since another mother cannot use the pump, the staff asks for a donation to cover the cost of a new pump. Most users will reimburse the costs of the pump and take the pump with them. Travelers Aid then replaces the pump with a new one for the next user.
In addition to the nursing mother or baby needs, Travelers Aid has personal hygiene items along with contact lens solutions and lens holders. They also have eyeglass repair kits. And, yes they have bandages.
Travelers Aid is able to maintain their supplies with funds through their contract with the airport and through donations, Ishu said. To those who can afford it, volunteers will direct travelers to the donation jar.
Through the continual generosity of a volunteer and her church, Travelers Aid maintains a supply of basic clothing items in all sizes for those who lost their luggage or are unexpectedly spending the night in the airport on cots.
The Travelers Aid office area is also used as a prayer room, King said, for those passengers not wanting to exit the secure area to reach the multi-denominational chapel. A regular O’Hare traveler has donated a pray rug for use in the Travelers Aid space.
“We have had a situation where a passenger is praying in one area of our office while a mom is using another room to nurse,” King noted.
The monthly Top 5 list was an initiative of Travelers Aid to relay to airport administrators the concerns of travelers. King said the scorecard was developed as part of its monthly report to the airport. Prior to that, the staff reported passenger needs and concerns during in-person meetings with the Chicago Department of Aviation.
One consistent travelers’ request that has yet to be met by the airport is a location to receive or send money wire transfers. King noted that Travelers Aid explored providing this service, but in doing so would endanger its non-profit status.
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