A couple of years ago, my pregnant wife flew abroad to visit her parents while I held the fort at home with my daughter. While it was perfectly safe for my wife to do this as it was in the second trimester, I did wonder whether babies have ever been born on planes before. Does it happen often, or do strict airline rules make it extremely unlikely?
The short answer is rarely. In fact it’s extremely rare. Although there are no official figures, one study of all known in-flight births showed that 74 babies were born on commercial planes over a period of 90 years. So the chances of it happening on your flight are fairly remote to say the least!
In this article, let’s take a look at this topic in more detail. What happens when a birth happens on a flight? Does it affect the nationality of the child if you’re flying over another country? What about when you’re flying over the ocean?
How many babies have been born on planes in total?
There are no official statistics on the exact number as the data is hard to obtain, but one study conducted by the National Library of Medicine discovered that 74 babies were born on 73 commercial flights between 1929 and 2018. 71 infants survived, two unfortunately died after delivery and one birth is unknown. It’s highly likely there have been more births than this, but it’s impossible to know for sure.
How many babies are born on airplanes each year?
Going by the data on the total number of births over the past 90 years, it looks like, on average, approximately one baby is born each year on a commercial flight.
What happens if a baby is born on a plane?
As you can imagine, being aboard a plane 30,000 feet up in the air is not the ideal place to give birth. The air is thinner at altitude so it makes it harder for a newborn baby to breath. They also hate the changes in air pressure which can cause issues with their ears. Furthermore, airplanes aren’t equipped with high level medical equipment if there is a complication with the delivery, or if a C-section is required. Usually emergency landings are not possible either, as it is too disruptive for the other passengers, costly for the airline and it causes problems with an airline’s schedule. That being said, if there is a complication with the delivery of the baby they will attempt an emergency landing.
Although cabin crew aren’t trained to deliver babies, they will usually notify other passengers on board to see if there is anyone medically trained who can help. However, one of the first steps is to make the pregnant woman as comfortable as possible, which will likely mean moving her to business class or first class, or a spacious area in the galley.
What nationality does a baby born on a plane have?
It depends. There isn’t a universal rule on this, but there are essentially 3 possibilities:
- The baby is granted citizenship of the country whose airspace they were delivered in. This can happen in countries like the USA, but not for the UK.
- The baby receives their parents’ citizenship.
- If the baby is considered stateless, then the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness comes into play. This basically means the child could take the airline’s country of origin as their citizenship.
As you can imagine, of these 3 situations, the second one is by far the most common.
What happens if a baby is born on a plane over the ocean?
Most of the earth is covered by water, so if a pregnant woman goes into labour on a flight, chances are it’ll be over a sea or ocean. In this case, the baby will either be granted their parents’ citizenship or the country of origin for the flight.
Is it legal to fly when you’re pregnant?
While it is legal to fly when you’re pregnant, it depends on what stage you are in your pregnancy. Basically if you are very close to full-term, you are not going to be allowed on the flight, but some airlines are more lenient than others. Here are some of the airlines that are more relaxed about pregnant women flying on their aircrafts.
- South Western airlines recommend against flying if you are at the start of your 38th week of pregnancy, but don’t they don’t enforce any strict rule about this.
- Delta have no restrictions at all for pregnant women.
Here are some airlines that allow pregnant women to fly close to their due date, providing there is a doctor’s certificate saying the passenger is safe to go on a plane.
- United Airlines require two copies and an original of an obstetrician’s certificate dated within 72 hours of departure (if you’re flying after your 36th week)
- JetBlue require a doctor’s certificate if you’re due date is within 7 days of your flight.
Here are some airlines which are a lot stricter and actually forbid you from flying if you are close to your due date:
- British Airways – no flight allowed after 36th week of pregnancy.
- easyJet – only before the end of the 35th week.
- Emirates – you are not allowed to fly after 36th week of your pregnancy.
It seems that airlines in the USA are a little more lenient than some others around the world.
Do you get free flights if you give birth on a plane?
Sounds good doesn’t it? However, it doesn’t normally happen and a lot depends on the airline. Here are some examples where these ‘sky babies’ have been granted some special dispensations.
- Thai Airways, Jet Airways and Air Asia have awarded ‘sky babies’ free flights for life on their airlines.
- Cebu Pacific granted 1 million air miles to a baby girl born on one of their flights.
- Virgin Atlantic gave free flights to a ‘sky baby’ until they reached 21.
- British Airways gave a pair of tickets to any worldwide destination for the baby’s 18th birthday.
Graham is a father of two who founded Dadometer to share his parenting journey with other moms and dads.