Flying while pregnant? Here’s what you need to know

Sep 28, 2019

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The birth of a baby on an Air France flight — and in first class, no less — reminded us that it may be a rare event, giving birth on a plane does happen: Every year, a handful of babies are born midair. And even those who aren’t born at the front of the plane can get lucky. Some have been gifted free flights for life or a million airline miles just for having been born in flight.

While flight attendants and crew are trained and prepared for the rare event when a woman gives birth midflight, most airlines understandably try to avoid the situation as much as possible. However, with no official guidelines governing travel during pregnancy across the globe, every airline has different restrictions, timelines and requirements. The rules vary from “fly whenever you want” to “you must fly with an obstetrician” (we’re not kidding).

The vast majority of airlines require a medical certificate from a primary attending doctor or midwife, certifying that the passenger is healthy and fit for travel during the final months of pregnancy, though even that varies with U.S. airlines typically offering more flexibility than international carriers.

Can you fly while pregnant?

For the most part, the airline rules for traveling while pregnant don’t kick in until the third trimester in the 28th week. Before then, you are left to your own decision-making and the guidance of your medical team. However, once you hit the 28th week (or, potentially, look like you have hit the 28th week), some of the decisions on when and where you can fly are out of your hands — at least for international travel.

U.S. airlines typically don’t require any documentation or have any restrictions until the last month of pregnancy, whereas many international airlines require medical clearance starting at 28 weeks.

Related: Guide to flying in each trimester of pregnancy

Flying at 30 weeks pregnant
Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy

Getting a medical certificate

Airline policies differ, but if you may need documentation, it never hurts to include enough detail to satisfy the most stringent airline requirements.

A thorough medical certificate or waiver should state:

  • The number of weeks of pregnancy
  • The estimated delivery date
  • Whether the pregnancy is single or multiple
  • Whether there are any complications
  • That you are in good health and fit to travel through the date of your final flight

Additionally, the certificate should be:

  • Written on official clinic or hospital letterhead if possible
  • Signed by the doctor or attending midwife
  • Be dated no later than 72 hours of departure date
  • Be written in clear, simple English

If you may need documentation, then carry this certificate with you on your flight. Some airlines won’t ask to see it, but others will. Some airlines also may have their own documentation requirements. See the chart below to find out which airlines require it.

Image by Orbon Alija / Getty Images
Image by Orbon Alija / Getty Images

Airline policies for pregnant woman

Airline Before 28 weeks   Between 29-36 weeks  After 37 weeks (33 weeks if pregnant with multiples)
Air Canada  No restrictions  No restrictions  Travel not permitted
Air France  No restrictions No restrictions  No restrictions
Alaska Airlines  No restrictions  No restrictions  No restrictions
Alitalia  No restrictions  No restrictions; travel companion advised. A Medical Information Form dated within 7 days of departure is needed if you are in the last 4 weeks of pregnancy, you have a medical complication related to your pregnancy or you are having twins.  Requires medical certificate dated within 7 days of departure date that lists your due date
American Airlines  No restrictions  Travel permitted; requires medical certificate beginning 4 weeks before your due date  For international travel, or travel over water, clearance from a special assistance coordinator is required, as well as a medical certificate dated within 48 hours of departure date.

For domestic flights under 5 hours, travel within 7 days of due date or 7 days after birth requires special permission from an American Airlines special assistance coordinator

British Airways  No restrictions but recommend that you carry a letter stating whether your pregnancy is single or multiple, expected due date and that there are no complications. Travel not permitted after the end of the 32nd week if pregnant with multiple babies.  Travel not permitted after the end of the 36th week if pregnant with one baby.
Cathay Pacific  Travel permitted; for pregnancies with known complications, passengers must complete a Cathay medical form no less than 48 hours before travel and receive clearance from the airline to travel.  Travel permitted; requires medical certificate dated within 10 days of departure date. Travel not permitted for uncomplicated multiple pregnancy after the 32nd week. Travel not permitted.

Medical clearance required for mothers traveling within 7 days after birth.

Infants are not permitted to travel within 48 hours after birth, and require medical clearance between 3-7 days after birth.

Delta Air Lines  No restrictions; does not waive pregnancy-related change fees and penalties.  No restrictions; does not waive pregnancy-related change fees and penalties.  No restrictions; does not waive pregnancy-related change fees and penalties.
Emirates No restrictions  Travel permitted; requires medical certificate  Requires prior clearance from Emirates Medical Services.

Infants are not permitted to travel within 7 days of birth without necessity, and only with prior medical clearance.

Etihad  No restrictions  Travel permitted; requires medical certificate. Travel not permitted for multiple pregnancy in the 33rd week and after.  Travel not permitted
Frontier Airlines No restrictions, but pregnant travelers are urged to discuss air travel with their physician. Travel permitted Travel permitted, but those in the last month of pregnancy are urged to be examined by their physician shortly before travel to confirm it is safe.
Hawaiian Airlines No restrictions No restrictions until 30 days before delivery date. Medical certificate required within 7 days of due date within Hawaii. Statement from your physician dated within 48 hours of travel required for travel beyond Hawaii within 30 days of due date.
JAL No restrictions Medical certificates required for travel beginning the 36th week, when due date is unknown, if multiple births are expected or if there has been a previous premature delivery. When the due date is in 14 days or less, an obstetrician must accompany the expectant mother on the flight
JetBlue No restrictions  No restrictions  Travel permitted; travel within 7 days of due date requires medical certificate dated within 72 hours of departure time.
KLM Royal Dutch No restrictions; note recommended for pregnancies with complications  No restrictions; note recommended for pregnancies with complications  No restrictions; not recommended for pregnancies with complications
Lufthansa  No restrictions  No restrictions for single pregnancy. Those pregnant with multiples may not travel after the 28th week.

Medical certificate recommended

 Travel not permitted
 Singapore Airlines  No restrictions  Travel permitted; requires medical certificate dated within 10 days of departure date beginning in the 28th week.

Uncomplicated multiple pregnancy permitted to travel with medical certificate until the 32nd week.

 Travel not permitted.
Southwest Airlines  No restrictions  No restrictions  Travel permitted but not recommended after 38 weeks; pregnant women may be asked to not sit in emergency rows.
Spirit Airlines No restrictions No restrictions Travelers are urged to obtain an examination from their physician shortly before travel once they enter the 8th month of pregnancy.
 United Airlines  No restrictions  No restrictions up until the 36th week when you need the original and 2 copies of an obstetrician’s certificate dated within 72 hours of departure  Medical certificate required, dated no later than 72 hours before departure; 24 hours is preferred.

Original certificate must be presented to airline at check-in; the other two copies must be kept on hand during travel.

Virgin Atlantic  No restrictions  Travel permitted; medical certificate required beginning at 28 weeks; multiple pregnancies can only fly only until the 32nd week  Travel not permitted unless necessary for urgent medical or compassionate reasons. Travel under these conditions requires approval from Virgin Atlantic’s medical team (contact the airline directly for details), and a companion is strongly recommended.
Virgin Australia  No restrictions  Travel permitted; requires a medical certificate dated within 10 days of departure date once you reach 28 weeks.  For flights longer than four hours, travel is not permitted after 36 weeks of pregnancy (32 weeks if pregnant with multiples), or within 48 hours of normal vaginal delivery.

For flights shorter than four hours, travel is not permitted after 40 weeks of pregnancy (36 weeks if pregnant with multiples), or within 48 hours of normal vaginal delivery.

Bottom line

While those with healthy, normal pregnancies can fly up until close to the very end of pregnancy, at a certain point you might not want to. My final flight while pregnant with my second daughter was at 31–32 weeks, and at that point airline travel as it simply wasn’t remotely comfortable. Just because an airline permits you to fly until right before your due date, doesn’t mean you actually will want to.
Travel in the Third Trimester
Photo taken one day before final flight home at 32 weeks pregnant. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Read on to learn more about traveling before, during and after pregnancy:

Feature photo by Nadezhda1906/Getty Images

Additional reporting by Katherine Fan

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