What Is the Citizenship of a Baby Born on an Airplane?

Feb 18, 2019

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To The Point

Have you ever wondered if babies born in the sky get free flights for life or what is the citizenship of a baby born on an airplane would be? The answers to both of these questions aren’t as straight-forward as you might hope, but read on to get some clues into how these situations are handled…

It is not very common for babies to be born while flying at 36,000 feet, but it has happened a few dozen times since humans first took flight. The first midair birth on record actually dates all the way back to 1929. Since it is pretty rare, when a baby does enter the world while in the air, it is generally a newsworthy event for a plane to land with one more passenger than it had when it took off.

Recently, a baby was born on a relatively short JetBlue flight from San Juan to Ft. Lauderdale. Thankfully, everyone was OK and the JetBlue aircraft on which the baby boy made his arrival (previously named “Born To Be Blue”) will even be renamed to mark the event!

A common question when a baby is born on a plane (in addition to does the baby really get free flights for life?) is a question of citizenship. Specifically, what citizenship is given to a baby when they are born on an airplane and is that impacted by where the plane is at the time?

A KLM Boeing 747-400 seconds away from touchdown at SXM (Image by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)
(Image by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)

Citizenship Status Given to a Baby Born on a Plane

The citizenship answer is actually a little complicated and depends on many factors. Usually, the baby will simply become a citizen of the same country as the mom (and/or dad) regardless of where they made their appearance. However, sometimes these “skyborn” or “airborn” babies do have citizenship claims to the country whose airspace they were flying over when they were born.

There actually aren’t a ton of countries that grant citizenship simply by the location of birth, though notably, the United States is one of the countries that grants citizenship based on being born inside or within 12-nautical miles of the borders, including in the sky. This is also known as jus soli (right of the soil) citizenship and can come into play for babies who are born in the sky over select countries. You can check out some countries that grant citizenship based on where you are born here.

A baby born in the sky may alternatively end up being a citizen of the country where the aircraft is registered, though my layman’s reading of available documents point to that most likely being a fallback plan if the baby wouldn’t already have citizenship somewhere based on the parents’ citizenship or the location of the plane when the baby made his or her arrival.

How Late Into Pregnancy Can Women Fly?

While it can be a temporary PR boom, airlines obviously don’t want to be in the labor and delivery business. There are limits on how late into a pregnancy a mother is supposed to fly set by each individual airline. US airlines typically do not require any documentation or have travel restrictions for women who are pregnant until the last month of pregnancy, whereas many international airlines do require medical clearance starting at 28 weeks. JetBlue permits travel by a pregnant woman until they are within seven days of the expected delivery date without any documentation (in the final week, women would need a note from their doctor). Personally, I stopped flying with at least six weeks to go with both my pregnancies, and even then the final few flights were short domestic hops. It just wasn’t fun or comfortable past a certain point.

Flying early in my third trimester. (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Do “Skyborn” Babies Get Free Flights for Life?

In terms of whether giving birth on a plane will score the baby free flights, that sometimes happens. For example, a baby born on a Spirit flight in 2017 receives a free flight every year on his birthday (checked bags presumably will still cost extra). Jet Airways did provide free flights for life to a baby born on one of its planes in 2017. Another baby born on Cebu Pacific Air received 1,000,000 miles! But such perks are not guaranteed. Understandably, airlines certainly don’t want to encourage pregnant women on the verge of labor to board a plane, so guaranteed travel incentives for giving birth in the air probably wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest.

Bottom Line

While the place of birth on the birth certificate for a baby born in flight may be in the air, the citizenship will depend on where the birth took place, the citizenship status of the parents and, finally if all else fails, potentially the country where the plane is registered. Because being born in the sky is such a rare (and complex) event, there’s no one-size-fits-all citizenship solution. What will be really interesting is when the first baby is ultimately born in space.

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