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.

Airlines powerless against the pregnant

Fortunately, there aren’t many babies born on planes. Run the numbers on this one: it just doesn’t happen much. One would assume that rules around flying later in pregnancy have helped, but it turns out that these requirements really boil down to an honor system that leaves the carriers virtually powerless.

Of course, most pregnant women pay attention to the rules (or guidelines, in practicality), which is why there aren’t more kids named after flight attendants and pilots. The last four or five weeks of pregnancy are usually off-limits for the expecting. Some procedures are used to screen out passengers who probably shouldn’t be allowed to board, but they rarely stand up to the will of someone who doesn’t want to get caught.

According to the Associated Press:

[E]ven when gate attendants question how pregnant a passenger is, they usually have no choice but to let the woman fly if she says she has not reached the airline’s cutoff date and is showing no sign of physical distress, said Dr. Fanancy Anzalone, president-elect of the Aerospace Medical Association in Alexandria, Va.

“The rules now are based on honesty and (the idea) that a pregnant mom is going to protect her unborn,” Anzalone said.

The airlines can’t do much when they suspect a pregnant passenger shouldn’t board. They can bring in medical personnel to make the call and “determine whether she has the necessary medical documentation and is fit to fly,” Anzalone explained to the Associated Press. Once in the sky, the best that can happen is a bit of extra attention from the cabin crew and maybe a doctor or nurse among the passengers.

When it comes to looking for with-child passengers, there is an obvious risk of embarrassment … what happens when good intentions cause airline employees to question the obese non-pregnant? When it happens next, it’s my sincere hope that you’ll read about it here.

[photo by rumpleteaser via Flickr]

Woman gives birth over Atlantic on New Year’s Eve

On a flight from Amsterdam to Boston, USA Today reports that a woman of unknown nationality (though probably American or Dutch) gave birth to a Canadian while in flight. The miracle of international airspace is responsible for the citizenship, though it did not cause the underlying birth.

There is no word on whether Northwest Airlines charged for the extra carry-on that materialized while Flight 59 was in the air, but it’s likely they showed a bit of goodwill.

A doctor and paramedic helped deliver the baby girl in Canadian airspace over the Atlantic Ocean, which accounts for the extra dose of citizenship the new kid receives. When the plane touched down at 10:30 AM yesterday, mother and child were rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Update available! Learn more here.

[Via USA Today]

Mayhem in Mumbai and why not living in India seems safer

This time six years ago, I was pregnant and living in New Delhi, India. On one of my journeys to a sonogram appointment, the taxi passed by one of the Indian government buildings where terrorists had attempted an attack that day. The camera crews and reporters were just leaving.

Later at the doctor’s office, as I saw a clear image of my son thanks to 3-D technology, the curve of his nose and the way his hand rested against his cheek showed the contrast between his life on the inside and what life felt like on the outside. There was a sharp division.

Generally, I see the world as a safe place. Even when we continued to live in India, the various incidents of unrest did not startle us much. We went about our lives like most people do. We worked, visited with friends and took interesting trips to various places where I never felt unease.

Since we left India, two places we used to go regularly in New Delhi have been bombed. Orissa, a state we visited before we moved to India has been fraught with religious unrest.

Now, with the latest hostage situation and killings in Mumbai–a place we did not get a chance to visit but planned to if we had not moved back to the U.S, the division between safety and danger seems all that more acute.

I’m certain that if we were still living in India, we’d be going about our business as usual and we would probably be on a Thanksgiving weekend away somewhere at this moment. Perhaps, we’d be staying at one of our favorite raj palaces turned into a hotel surrounded by countryside with nothing but tiny villages for miles.

Still, the news coming out of India gives me the feeling that sometimes, as mundane as home may seem, home feels like a blessing.

Then again, it’s always good to travel to remind oneself, that in most cases, the world is safe despite the news.

[This article posted 2 hours ago in the Business Standard says that the hostage situation is under control. The photo is of the Taj Palace burning.]