Image: Marcelo Cáceres

APEX Insight: Even airline CEOs, aerospace manufacturers and aircraft interior designers have some unanswered questions when it comes to the passenger experience industry. In this installment of PaxEx FAQs, APEX Media looks at the logistics behind in-flight birthing, and what it means for all parties involved.

Last September, a baby boy was born on board a Buraq Air aircraft during a trip from Tripoli, Libya, to Niamey, the capital of Niger. The newborn was delivered with the help of the carrier’s cabin crew and was named after the airplane’s captain, Abdul Baset. Buraq Air announced the birth on its Facebook page alongside a special offering for the infant: a lifetime of free flights. Just a few weeks earlier, baby girl Haven was gifted one million air miles by Cebu Pacific, after being born on one of its flights from Dubai to Manila.

The conferral of a lifetime of air miles points – or close to it – upon a baby born in flight is a protocol followed by some airlines. In addition to Buraq Air and Cebu Pacific, Thai Airways and Virgin Atlantic are among the airlines known to follow through with that practice. However, it isn’t nearly as customary as some might expect. British Airways has awarded one-off tickets to a woman born on one of its flights 18 years prior, Air France sent a “gift” – not lifetime of free travel – to a baby born on one of its aircraft in 2015 and, according to CNN, “Very few airlines are known to have granted a newborn free flights for life.”

Citizenship Up in the Air

Uncertainty also shrouds the question of citizenship for babies born in flight, namely because countries’ nationality laws differ – either following jus soli or jus sanguinis, Latin for “right of soil” and “right of blood,” respectively. Most countries adhere to the latter of these, with newborns adopting citizenship via one or both parents. However the US, Canada and most South and Central American countries grant citizenship to babies born on their soil. But under which country’s purview does an aircraft that’s in the sky fall?

In many cases, an aircraft is considered the soil of the country in which the airline is registered. However, this doesn’t necessarily grant citizenship even under jus soli law; a baby born in a US-registered aircraft would not be an American citizen unless the aircraft is flying within the country’s airspace.

When Push Comes to Shove

How do airlines safeguard against the possibility of an in-flight delivery? Many carriers begin limiting travel for expectant mothers at 36 weeks into the pregnancy. American Airlines and United Airlines, for example, both request a doctor’s certificate in the ninth month of pregnancy. Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, British Airways, and Air Canada prohibit travel after the 36th week altogether, while Air France, Southwest and Alaska Airlines do not restrict travel for pregnant women whatsoever.

Even when all precautions are taken and guidelines adhered, the unlikely can occur: In fact, globally, one in 10 pregnancies ends in a pre-term birth – one occurring before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy – making in-flight deliveries inevitable given current regulations. However, most flight attendants have not been trained to deliver babies, so their first step is usually to consult with passengers to see if a medical professional is on board. In some cases, airlines, like Emirates, have a 24/7 satellite medical advisory service that connects crew with medical consultants on the ground, who can provide real-time assistance.

If it is believed that the delivery cannot happen safely in flight, crew will request that the aircraft be rerouted for an emergency landing. Although the health and safety of passengers is of utmost importance, airlines try to avoid such diversions, which can cost as much as $200,000. If crew deem it safe to deliver the baby at 35,000 feet, what ensues is a genuine team effort.

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Valerie is deputy editor at APEX Media.