It’s four a.m. and my family is packing up to leave our hotel after a long vacation when, surprise! My period arrives a couple days early. No problem. I had an emergency tampon at the ready and could just purchase more at the airport.
After driving to the airport and getting through security I landed at a newsstand near our gate. I couldn’t seem to locate any pads or tampons and asked the woman at the register. She couldn’t recall if they normally stocked them or not. “Check at the newsstand down the way,” and off I went. Nothing. No pads or tampons there either.
Aha! They must sell them in coin machines in the restroom, but no. Nothing. I proceeded to check every newsstand in terminals A and B. Nothing! Ok. Don’t panic. They must have some on the plane. At this point I’m doing the math on the shelf life of my current tampon and I’m starting to sweat.
As I board the plane, I approach a group of four stewardesses. I politely ask them where I can locate the pads or tampons and was told the airline doesn’t offer them. Not even for sale! One of the women proceeded to tell me that I could use the paper napkins they had in the lavatory—referring to the sandpaper hand towels next to the sink.
I stood there contemplating my options for the three-hour plane ride ahead. How did it escalate to this point that my only options were: (a) stuff napkins down my pants, (b) ask a complete stranger on the plane for a tampon, or (c) bleed all over the seat? Why didn’t they sell pads or tampons anywhere—be it in a newsstand, a restroom, or an airplane? I would have gladly paid for one. Just stick it on the menu next to the snacks. There were Kleenex, toilet paper, and hand towels in the bathroom but no menstrual products? Tampons and pads serve the same function as toilet paper when it comes to cleanliness. How is this sanitary? What if one of the passengers on the plane has an emergency?
Well, I wasn’t about to start asking random people on the plane for a tampon. It’s weird to rely on the charity of complete strangers to fulfill your hygiene needs so I went with option (a). After making myself a TP and sandpaper diaper that my girl scout troop leader would have been proud of, I spent the last few moments of wifi filling out some very opinionated surveys.
Flash back to five years prior. I was a young nursing mother who had to travel for work and nursing rooms didn’t really exist yet. It wasn’t until 2018 that a new law called the Friendly Airports for Mothers Act (FAM) required all medium and large airports in the country to have dedicated lactation areas. I vividly recall having to openly pump breast milk in front of all the other women and girls in the restroom and wondering why? Why wasn’t there a place for women to do this in a private and sanitary environment? The FAM Act was a bipartisan bill introduced in May 2017 by Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. She shared that her own experiences of expressing breast milk while traveling inspired her to introduce the FAM Act. It seems like we should expand the FAM act so that airports are also required to make period care products available to those who need them.
Dr. Bronner’s has been a proponent for accessibility to menstrual products since 2019. They’ve been working with Pavitramenthe, their supplier of organic and fair trade mint oils in rural Uttar Pradesh, India, to supply women in farming households with free reusable menstrual pads. In 2021, Dr. Bronner’s stepped up again, by stocking employee restrooms with free menstrual products at their plant and headquarters in Vista, CA.
I applaud the efforts of Senator Tammy Duckworth and Dr. Bronner’s, and like them I’m feeling inspired. Passengers shouldn’t have to sit on a plane with a wad of napkins down their pants. Accessibility to menstrual products is a human right. It shouldn’t be a luxury or a nice-to-have. I invite you to share this story and to speak up when you see an opportunity to improve the lives of other women. Who knows, maybe the airlines will hear us and make the availability of menstrual products a standard on their flights. Maybe the airports will hear us and install menstrual product vending machines in their restrooms. Maybe employers will hear us and offer accessibility to menstrual products in their restrooms as well. And just maybe, my story can help bring us closer to a future where traveling sucks a little less. Period.