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The birth of a baby on an Air France flight — and in first class, no less! — reminds us that it may be a rare event, but it does happen: every year, a handful of babies are born mid-air. 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 mid-flight, most airlines try to avoid the situation as much as possible. However, with no official guidelines governing travel during pregnancy, 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.
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. US 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.
Getting a Medical Certificate
Airline policies differ, but 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
|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||Requires medical certificate dated within 7 days of departure date|
|American Airlines||No restrictions||Travel permitted; requires medical certificate|| 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||Travel permitted; requires medical certificate dated within 7 days of departure date||Travel not permitted|
|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.
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 Airlines||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|
|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; note recommended for pregnancies with complications|
|Lufthansa||No restrictions||No restrictions; medical certificate recommended||Travel permitted; requires medical certificate|
|Singapore Airlines||No restrictions||Travel permitted; requires medical certificate dated within 10 days of departure date.||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.|
|United Airlines||No restrictions||No restrictions|| 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 America||No restrictions||No restrictions||Travel permitted; medical certificate dated within 72 hours of departure date required for travel within 7 days of due date.|
|Virgin Atlantic||No restrictions||Travel permitted; medical certificate required||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.|| 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.
For more specific information, here are some planning trips if you are hoping to become pregnant in the relatively near future, traveling during your first trimester, traveling during your second trimester and traveling during your third trimester.
Feature photo by Nadezhda1906/Getty Images
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