Regardless of where you are, childbirth is no walk in the park. So just imagine what it’d be like to give birth in a less-than-ideal location — say, 30,000 feet above ground, for instance. Yikes.
Although it’s uncommon, giving birth mid-flight does happen. And aside from all the nightmare-ish aspects that are to be expected, there’s one reason in particular (which we’ll get to on page 6) why in-air childbirth is a total pain.
Without further ado, here’s what happens when a passenger goes into labor mid-flight — minus all the gory details.
Airlines have specific regulations regarding pregnant passengers
Generally speaking, expectant mothers are allowed to fly until week 36 of their pregnancy. But there are exceptions, and each airline has its own policies. For example, United requires a passenger in her ninth month of pregnancy to submit the original and two copies of an obstetrician’s certificate dated within 72 hours of departure. Similarly, American Airlines requires passengers whose due date is within four weeks to provide a doctor’s certificate, as well.
However, not all airlines have such stringent rules. JetBlue’s policy, for instance, requires women whose due date is within seven days to submit a doctor’s certificate stating she’s fit to travel. Delta, on the other hand, has no restrictions on flying while pregnant.
Next: Be sure to talk to your insurance company before deciding to fly while heavily pregnant.
You’ll want to heed insurance recommendations
Don’t think delivering your little one in the sky is a free pass on medical expenses. In fact, it could result in an even higher bill. As Bravo warns, “Most travel plans will not cover your care if you break the rules of flying within eight weeks of your due date.” So that’s something to consider.
Next: It happens more often than you’d assume.
In-flight labor is more common than you think
We know we said mid-flight births were rare, but they’re actually not quite as rare as one might think. In particular, it’s more about how many passengers have gone into labor while aboard an airplane.
MedAire’s MedLink Global Response Center in Phoenix reported 27 cases of in-flight labor from 2006 to 2008. (The center reported 55,000 in-flight medical emergencies overall.) Of those 27 cases, two resulted in in-flight births.
Next: Do flight crews know what to do?
Flight crews are not trained in labor and delivery
Flight attendants are trained in a variety of situations. But their training in labor and delivery? Well, it’s not exactly thorough.
As veteran flight attendant and author James Wysong tells Yahoo, “Flights attendants are NOT trained to deliver babies. We are required to watch an antiquated black-and-white video on the birthing process in case a baby happens to arrive aboard one of our flights.”
In all cases, though, the first move is to call for a medical professional and hope to the high heavens that one is on board and comes forward to assist.
Next: What’s a crew to do?
Mid-flight labor is dealt with on a case-by-case basis
Similar to when a passenger dies mid-flight, when a passenger goes into labor mid-flight the crew is responsible for making real-time decisions based on the situation at hand.
Of course, diverting the plane is typically the best option. But that’s not always possible. Long-haul flights and a sudden onset of labor, for instance, can prevent the pilots from landing in time. And according to Yahoo, there is a whole host of things to consider: how long into the flight they are, whether there are complications with the pregnancy, and whether there’s a medical professional on board.
“Upon discovering the labor in progress, staff on-board are required to make a judgement call about whether an emergency landing is required,” Yahoo says.
Next: The answer you’ve been waiting for is up next.
Citizenship can be complicated
So what exactly happens when a baby is born in the sky? Well, the answer isn’t exactly black and white. In fact, this is probably the most complicated part of an in-flight birth.
There are two principles that come into play: jus sanguinis and jus soli. The former means the right of blood, while the latter means the right of soil. In the case of jus sanguinis, the baby would have the citizenship of his or her parents. In the case of jus soil, the citizenship is determined by the actual place of birth.
“Citizenship laws differ depending on the country,” CNN explains. “For example, in the UK, citizenship is not automatically conferred to those born in Britain.” On the other hand, any child born in the U.S. — even over its waters or in its airspace — is a U.S. citizen. Naturally, such vague rules can stir up critical questions.
For instance, when a passenger went into labor during a flight from Taipei to Los Angeles in 2015, public opinion was anything but positive. According to The Telegraph, the event “became controversial after the mother was accused of attempting ‘birth tourism,’ a trend whereby expectant parents fly to the US with the hope that their baby might be eligible for American citizenship.”
Next: This may be the biggest perk of all.
Free flights for life? Maybe
Born above 30,000 feet? You may be in luck. Turns out, that’s one way you could score free flights for life. It’s not likely, though, so don’t get your hopes up.
“The only airlines known to have given this privilege to children born in their metal are Thai Airways, Asia Pacific Airlines, AirAsia and Polar Airlines,” The Point Guy reports. “In one case, Virgin Atlantic granted an in-flight baby free flights until the age of 21.”
So have a baby in the sky, and your child could be the next best world traveler.
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