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What Happens When a Baby is Born Mid-Flight?

The birth of a child is an extraordinary event, but what if that child is born at an altitude of 35,000 feet in an airplane? These unusual circumstances raise questions about medical requirements, legal implications, and citizenship. Along with these concerns, the widespread myth that babies born on planes receive free flights for life has captured the public’s imagination. Let’s take an in-depth look at what happens when a baby is born mid-flight.

It’s important to note that the phenomenon of babies being born on flights is rare. Despite the uncommon nature of these events, several instances have occurred in recent years, with each one generating considerable interest from both the media and the general public.

Are Free Flights for Life a Myth or Reality?

baby is born mid-flight

The notion that babies born on planes receive free flights for life has gained traction over the years, but is there any truth to it? In one well-documented case, EgyptAir granted a baby free flights for life after being born on a flight from Cairo to London on September 15, 2020.

Thrilled by the safe birth of the baby and the heartwarming news, EgyptAir wasted no time in announcing through a Twitter post that they would celebrate the remarkable event by granting the child free flights for life. The message spread rapidly online, with numerous congratulations pouring in for the new mother, Hayam.

However, the excitement soon subsided as the airline appeared to reconsider their generous “lifetime travel ticket” offer. EgyptAir promptly followed up with a second message, insinuating that the free flights for life were actually meant to be exclusively for trips to Munich.

While this story seems to validate the myth, it remains an exception rather than a rule. Unofficial sources claim that none of the UAE-based carriers give free flights to babies born on their planes, illustrating that this generous offering varies depending on the airline’s discretion. Ultimately, the notion of free flights for life remains a captivating but uncommon perk.

Flying During Pregnancy: When is it Safe?

baby is born mid-flight

When it comes to flying during pregnancy, medical professionals generally deem air travel safe up until the 8th month of pregnancy. Airlines have different cutoffs for safe flying, with some allowing air travel up to 36 weeks, provided healthcare professionals clear the passenger. Pregnant passengers should consult their doctor and check their airline’s policies before flying to ensure a comfortable and safe journey.

Different airlines have different rules for traveling while pregnant. For example, Air Arabia accepts pregnant passengers up until the end of their 35th week for single pregnancies and 32nd week for multiple pregnancies, provided they present a medical certificate stating the number of weeks of pregnancy and confirming their fitness to fly. Etihad Airways and Emirates also require a medical certificate from the 29th week of pregnancy onwards. Always consult your airline for specific policies related to pregnancy and flying.

Airline Policies on Pregnant Passengers and In-Flight Childbirth

baby is born mid-flight

Airline policies regarding pregnant passengers and in-flight childbirth vary greatly across different carriers. These policies dictate how late into a pregnancy a passenger is allowed to fly, the documentation required, and the level of training provided to the cabin crew to handle such situations. Understanding these policies is crucial for ensuring a safe and comfortable flight experience for expectant mothers.

Most airlines have specific cut-offs and documentation requirements for pregnant passengers. Air Arabia, for example, allows pregnant passengers to travel up to the end of their 35th week for single pregnancies and the 32nd week for multiple pregnancies, provided they present a medical certificate. This certificate must state the number of weeks of pregnancy and confirm that the passenger is fit to fly.

Etihad Airways and Emirates follow similar policies, requiring a medical certificate starting from the 29th week of pregnancy. This certificate must include essential information such as confirmation of a singleton or multiple pregnancy, the estimated date of delivery, and assurance that there are no complications preventing the passenger from flying.

Some airlines like Southwest Airlines and Delta do not have specific restrictions for pregnant passengers and do not require a medical certificate. In contrast, Frontier and United require a medical certificate for passengers traveling during their 36th week of pregnancy.

Training for In-Flight Childbirth

Airlines have varying policies on training their cabin crew to handle in-flight childbirths. While there are no industry-wide standards, many airlines choose to provide training to their staff, particularly those operating long-haul flights. This training ensures that the crew can assist in rare events like in-flight births when spontaneous landings might not be feasible.

baby is born mid-flight

Emirates Airlines, for instance, has confirmed that its cabin crew are trained to handle childbirth and various other emergencies onboard. By offering specialized training, airlines can prioritize passenger safety and well-being in unexpected situations.

Airlines’ Response to In-Flight Childbirth

Airlines handle in-flight childbirths on a case-by-case basis, determining whether a diversion is necessary or if the flight should continue as planned. In most cases, flight attendants and crew consult with passengers to see if there are medical professionals onboard who can assist with the delivery.

Once the baby is born and everyone is safe, airlines may have different policies regarding accommodations for the newborn and their parents. These policies can include issuing special documentation, assisting with nationality determination, and providing any required support for the baby and the family.

The Complex Question of the Baby’s Nationality

selective focus photography of a baby looking through the window
Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas

The issue of a baby’s nationality when born mid-flight can be quite intricate. Various factors come into play, such as the territorial principle, which raises the question of where the child was born. The Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation states that each nation has full and exclusive air sovereignty over its territory, meaning that any aircraft is subject to the law of the state whose airspace it occupies at any given moment. This includes the birthplace principle, which can result in a second passport if the birth occurs in the airspace of a foreign country.

While most countries adhere to the “jus sanguinis” principle, which grants the baby the same nationality as its parents, the specific details of citizenship depend on the aircraft’s location at the time of birth. If the baby is born over an ocean, there are several legal possibilities to consider. One option is that the baby might become a citizen of the country where the aircraft is registered. Alternatively, the baby could inherit the parents’ citizenship, irrespective of the birth location.

For births occurring over land, the baby’s citizenship options can vary. Some countries have made extensive claims regarding the airspace above their borders, ranging from 43 to 99 miles up. A few of these countries grant citizenship to babies born in their airspace, while others do not. For instance, the United States offers citizenship to babies born within its airspace or waters, even if the newborn’s parents are foreign nationals. On the other hand, the United Kingdom does not grant citizenship to babies born in British airspace.

Final Thoughts

Giving birth mid-flight is not the most ideal or likely situation for pregnant passengers, but it does happen occasionally. Pregnant passengers should consult their doctor and check their airline’s policies to ensure a safe and comfortable journey. And who knows – your baby just might be the next mid-air miracle!

What unique challenges do you think come with giving birth at 35,000 feet, and how would you react to witnessing such an extraordinary event?

READ ALSO: Problems You May Experience During Your Flight


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