Fact Check

Breast Defense

Did airport security screeners require a woman to drink her stored breast milk before allowing her to board a flight?

Published Aug 8, 2002

Claim:   Airport security screeners required a woman to drink her stored breast milk before allowing her to board a flight.

Status:   Sort of.

Example:   [NewsMax.com, 2002]

Airport Screeners Order Mom to Drink Breast Milk

In the latest in a series of airport security nightmares, a woman flying from New York to Florida was forced to drink three bottles of her own breast milk before being allowed to board a flight at JFK International Airport - in an incident that has one prominent New York civil rights attorney ready to sue.

Elizabeth McGanny of Oceanside, N.Y., called WABC Radio's Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby Tuesday morning to relate the story.

Guards at JFK's Delta terminal first "patted me down and made me take my shoes off," McGanny told the morning radio duo. "One security guard took my 4-month-old out of my arms and then they went through the baby's diaper bag."

There the guards discovered the three suspect bottles, McGanny said, and promptly ordered her to drink the contents.

"I'm not drinking that. It's breast milk," she replied. "They said, 'Either drink all three bottles or you're not getting on the plane.'"

[ . . .]

Origins:   Many tales concerning the overzealousness of some airport security screeners have made their way into the news since more stringent airline boarding procedures were enacted after the September 11

terrorist attacks on America. A combination of airport personnel abusing their positions of power and applying rules with an overenthusiastical literalness has led to farces such as the confiscation of a G.I. Joe doll's two-inch plastic gun because the accessory was deemed to be a "replica" of a weapon, a class of item now prohibited as a carry-on.

The latest tale of outrage-provoking excess at the airport comes from an 6 August 2002 article NewsMax.com which recounts the talk radio conversation of Elizabeth McGarry, a woman who claims she was ordered to drink three bottles of her own breast milk to demonstrate it harmless before she was allowed to board a flight to Florida at JFK International Airport. Although it is just now being given widespread news coverage, this incident actually took place back in April 2002. (Sharp-eyed readers will have noted the difference in surnames — Newsmax made a bit of a hash of things by rendering McGarry's name as


Certainly a passenger's being ordered (even in jest) to drink stored breast milk carried onboard for an infant is inexcusable (bottles can be security screened without requiring anyone to drink their contents), but unfortunately the NewsMax article achieves maximum sensationalism by omitting key details, leaving the reader with the impression that Ms. McGarry was forced to drink the contents of three bottles of breast milk.

Ms. McGarry was made to taste from each bottle, but was not forced to down the entire contents. She offered to squirt some milk from each bottle onto her arm, and lick it off, but that offer was declined. (She was concerned her saliva would contaminate the expressed milk, making it unfit for the baby. Saliva contamination could ruin the contents of each bottle within a matter of hours.)

The scenario described here isn't unbelievable, because it's happened at least once before. As KHOU-TV in Houston reported back in February 2002, Dallas attorney Colleen Carboy was also asked to drink her stored breast milk to demonstrate its safety before being allowed to board a flight in Austin, but security personnel were eventually overruled by a supervisor after Ms. Carboy protested, and she was passed through the screening process without having to take a drink.

At the time both these incidents took place, federal guidelines permitted airport screeners to have passengers drink from containers. That policy was changed on 24 June 2002, however.

Last updated:   2 December 2007


  Sources Sources:

    Limbacher, Carl.   "Airport Screeners Order Mom to Drink Breast Milk."

    NewsMax.com   6 August 2002.

    McShane, Larry.   "Lactating Mom Decries JFK Security."

    Associated Press.   8 August 2002.

    Mungo, Carolyn.   "New Airport Security Changes Are Hard for Some to Swallow."

    KHOU.com.   15 February 2002.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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