Here’s what happens when an ‘unexpected’ passenger shows up mid-way through a flight
Earlier this week, a JetBlue aircraft from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Fort Lauderdale welcomed an extra passenger mid-way through the flight. A pregnant woman popped a baby boy 30,000 ft in the air on board a plane incidentally named “Born to be Blue”. It’s an event so rare, it’s cloaked in myths of all kinds: do babies born on flights get free travel for life? Are they citizens of the world who don’t have to deal with visas and biometrics? Here’s the skinny on ‘sky babies’:
It’s rare, but it happens
Despite nearly 10 million flights that ferry over 3.5 billion passengers each year, it’s very rare for babies to born on board. There are no official figures, but by some accounts, fewer than 60 babies have been born on aircraft.
That’s typically because an aircraft isn’t the delivery room most parents dream of. But pre-term labour is a real possibility, which is why airlines have rules in place. Different carriers have different rules. IndiGo, Etihad will not fly women who are over 36 weeks pregnant; Jet Airways caps it at 38 weeks; Etihad at 36 weeks and so on.
Then there are other considerations, including the nature of pregnancy (single/multiple; complicated/regular) that dictate if a woman can fly. A doctor’s certificate is required typically beyond 28 weeks. All this to ensure the mother and baby can travel safely, but also because no one wants a medical emergency on board. It’s stressful for everyone, not to mention expensive for the airline.
And yet, every once in a while, you have a surprise passenger on board.
It’s not advisable
Flight crew are trained for several medical emergencies, but midwifing isn’t always one of them. When a passenger goes into labour, crew will seek out medical professionals on board for assistance. Given the constraints of space and safety, it almost always requires a superhuman effort to ensure safe delivery, and the flight will quite likely be routed for an emergency landing.
Citizen of the world? Not quite
Once you’re out there in all your gooey glory, what country can you claim as your own? There are three possibilities:
- If the airline in question is registered in a country that has signed the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (yes, there is a such a thing), the child will be granted citizenship of that country. Nearly 67 countries have ratified the convention, but not India. And so a baby born on Air India, IndiGo, Jet Airways, SpiceJet or any other ‘Indian carrier’, will be subject to different rules.
- The next alternative is to grant citizenship of the country whose airspace the baby was delivered in. Most countries, including the US, follow this protocol.
- But in the rare event that neither of these options is available, the child will take the nationality of either parent. Bottomline: it’s subjective.
Free flights? Depends…
Let’s get this out of the way: there is no rule anywhere in the world that automatically qualifies ‘sky babies’ to free air travel. But those little things can turn the hardiest bean-counters into balls of mush.
And so, you have Jet Airways that awarded its youngest passenger a lifetime of free travel. In 2009, budget carrier AirAsia did the same for a Malaysian mother and her son. Last year, Cebu Pacific, a Filipino airline gifted one million air miles to the girl that arrived somewhere between Dubai and Manila.
Not all airlines are as generous though, so don’t consider this is a travel hack. Expensed corporate travel is, sadly, still the best way to pile those miles.