Flying while pregnant? Here’s what you need to know
Editors note: This guide has been updated with the latest information.
During pregnancy, seemingly harmless things like eating deli meat and cleaning your cat's litter box are suddenly off-limits, along with more obvious restrictions on sports like skiing and scuba diving.
But what about "grey area" activities like flying in an airplane?
There's no single set of guidelines governing air travel during pregnancy and every airline has different restrictions, timelines and requirements. Some airlines may also require a medical certificate from a primary attending doctor or midwife for air travel during the final months of pregnancy, though even that varies, with U.S. airlines typically offering more flexibility than international carriers.
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In the absence of clear guidelines, TPG turned to Dr. Nithya Gopal, a board-certified OB-GYN physician and the Director of OB-GYN services at Viva Eve in New York City, for her expert recommendations on safe air travel during pregnancy.
Here's what she had to say:
Is it safe to fly when you are pregnant?
There is no evidence of adverse pregnancy outcomes due to flying, according to Dr. Gopal.
"The general consensus is that it is safest to fly in the first and second trimesters," Dr. Gopal told The Points Guy. "While the first and third trimesters tend to be when the most obstetric emergencies are going to happen, I personally become more cautious with my patients after 32 weeks because of the increased risk for premature labor and the possibility of needing urgent medical attention when you are in the sky."
The most important thing you can do, no matter how far along you are in your pregnancy, is to consult with your healthcare provider before flying.
"Any time you are planning to fly during pregnancy, you should be having that conversation," Dr. Gopal said. Your provider will be familiar with any safety precautions you should take to ensure a safe and healthy flight.
Related: Guide to flying in each trimester of pregnancy
The airline you are flying may have its own cutoff, so you will want to confirm with it beforehand whether you will be allowed to fly if you are in (or nearing) your third trimester. We've included a chart below that outlines the rules for most major airline carriers.
What can you do to stay comfortable on a flight?
When you factor in morning sickness and general pregnancy discomfort with the increased risk for blood clots that all fliers need to be aware of, flying during pregnancy can be uncomfortable even when it is deemed safe.
Dr. Gopal shared her recommendations for addressing these common issues when you take to the (baby-) friendly skies during pregnancy. Her number one tip for staying comfortable while in flight is to wear compression socks to help maintain blood flow and reduce swelling in the legs.
In addition, "I also tell my patients to get up and move at least every hour when they are on the plane," Dr. Gopal said.
To prevent clotting, "some doctors may also prescribe a low-dose aspirin," she added. "It isn't something that is recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), but it isn't harmful, either."
If it's nausea or acid reflux that ail you, there are medications generally considered safe that you can take to alleviate your symptoms. These would be the same ones prescribed by your doctor for morning sickness, so speak with your provider before your flight to ensure you have what you need at the ready.
Dr. Gopal also advises wearing loose, unrestrictive clothing (along with your seatbelt, or course) and drinking extra fluids to counteract the pressurized air in the cabin and keep you hydrated.
"Over-the-counter Gas-X may also help with bloating that can happen as a result of the pressurized air," Dr. Gopal said.
Related: What happens when a baby is born in flight?
Must you speak with your healthcare provider before flying?
Even if your pregnancy is considered low-risk, it's always a smart idea to speak with your healthcare provider before flying. "There are a number of potential risks that go along with flying during pregnancy and those risks can change from week to week and month to month, so it's important to have that honest conversation with your doctor," Dr. Gopal said.
Related: Things You Should Do Before, During and After Flying to Stay Healthy
There are certain pregnancy conditions that may make flying more risky or unadvisable. If you are hypertensive, asthmatic or prone to clotting disorders, it's even more critical to speak with your doctor before flying.
Airline policies differ, but if you need documentation, it never hurts to include enough detail to satisfy the most stringent airline requirements.
"As with many things related to air travel, it's better to be safe than sorry," Dr. Gopal said. "It's definitely worth it, and sometimes necessary, to have medical documentation from your provider's office."
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 before the departure date.
- Be written in clear, simple English.
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.
Airline policies for pregnant women
|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.|
|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; recommended to consult your physician for multiples or pregnancy complications.||No restrictions; recommended to consult your physician for multiples or pregnancy complications.||No restrictions; recommended to consult your physician for multiples or pregnancy 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.
Even though it may be deemed safe, flying during pregnancy can be uncomfortable — and it is perfectly acceptable to implement your own cutoff for flying with your baby bump in tow.The majority of the time, though, flying is perfectly safe during pregnancy, providing that you follow the guidelines of the airline and your healthcare provider.Read on to learn more about traveling before, during and after pregnancy:
- What to expect in every trimester of pregnancy
- 4 tips for planning travel while planning a pregnancy
- Babymoon boom! These are the top 10 spots for a US getaway before the baby comes
- Flying with a baby checklist
Additional reporting by Katherine Fan and Tarah Chieffi.