What Happens When You Give Birth In-Flight?

Christian Haugen, Flickr

Last week a Royal Air Maroc flight traveling from Casablanca, Morocco to Bologna, Italy was forced to divert to Barcelona when a woman aboard the flight began to give birth. And as it turns out, when a baby decides to come into the world, it could care less if the tray tables are stowed and the seats are in an upright position. The baby was born just before landing.

Babies aren’t born on planes very often, but it does happen. Last year a Delta flight attendant helped deliver a baby boy en route from Atlanta to Africa (she and the doctor used a pair of scissors sterilized in vodka) and when a boy was born aboard an Emirates flight, he was named after the airline. And it should come as no shock at all, that on Virgin Atlantic you might just get treated to a bed of pillows. Richard Branson likes to keep his passengers feeling good after all.

So what happens when you give birth mid-air?

Beyond a likely emergency landing – because although giving birth on a plane sounds exotic, it’s good to get medical treatment – there’s the question of citizenship. According to the United Nations, a child born mid-flight is considered to have been born in the country that the airline is registered, but that doesn’t mean citizenship issues don’t arise.

But more importantly than citizenship, will your child get to travel free for life? That’s a common myth, and although certain babies have received such rewards, it’s not a given. In other words, don’t be boarding planes in the hopes that you’ll score a lifetime of expense free air travel for your child.

Why do women end up giving birth on airplanes?

After 36 weeks, women are encouraged not to fly, but obviously it depends on circumstances and doctor approval. Although you might think that for safety reasons airlines would have a bit more control over letting pregnant woman board airplanes, at the end of the day the rules are mostly based on honesty, and even if airline personnel think a woman is too pregnant to board, there’s not much that they can do. Some women go into early labor, and once mid-air there’s not a whole lot else to do but hope that there’s a doctor or nurse aboard.