You are flying in an airplane, and your neighbor in a row begins to give birth. Your actions? There is a high probability that there will not be a single doctor on board. Perhaps it is you who will have to help the stewards in this difficult situation. “The Secret of the Firm” learned how accidental witnesses of childbirth on the plane acted, how the crew coped with this, and what, in addition to the story for the grandchildren, newborns get from it.
Childbirth on an airplane through the eyes of passengers
passenger assisted in delivering a baby on a flight from Moscow to Punta Cana in February 2022
I flew to my wife in the Dominican Republic from Moscow. The board was half empty, so I settled in the back row to sleep. At some point, the flight attendants started to wake me up: it turned out that the passenger was giving birth, and I needed to clear the back row to accommodate her.
I was asked to be “handy” – to carry something, bring it, hold it. And the births themselves were taken only by flight attendants – there was no separate medical staff.
They acted harmoniously and calmly, as if every day they were doing just that.
Nobody in the cabin suspected what was happening: it was very quiet, people were then very surprised at what had happened. Usually, childbirth is associated with screams, turmoil and crying, but here everything is calm, and even quickly.
The boy who was born cried no louder than a kitten. Since at the time of the birth of the child we were flying over the Atlantic, it was impossible to land somewhere. So the plane was in the air for about five more hours and landed, as it should, in the Dominican Republic.
After that, my wife laughed that now we would definitely go to a partner birth together, although I was not going there.
medic, took birth on the flight Khabarovsk – Phuket in July 2016
My friend Sveta and I were in our 5th year at the Far Eastern Medical University and flew to Thailand for a vacation. Four hours after takeoff, the passenger went into labor, and Sveta and I offered automatic help.
There were no other doctors on the plane, so the two of us took on the main task: Sveta took delivery, and I helped with contractions and attempts. The flight attendants gave us sterile gowns and gloves. But there were no tools and medicines: everything had to be sterilized with vodka, the umbilical cord was tightened with gauze.
The birth went quickly, literally after 20 minutes the baby was in our hands.
During the birth itself, Sveta and I did not understand what was happening: we just knew that something had to be done, we had to help. And when the plane had already landed, understanding began to cover me, and I said: “Imagine what we did at all!”
obstetrician-gynecologist, doctor of medical sciences, took delivery on the Beijing-Tashkent flight in November 2018
My colleague and I flew to China to improve our skills, and on the way back to Tashkent we gave birth. Half an hour has passed since takeoff, and then an emergency is announced over the speakerphone in English and asked if there are doctors in the cabin. We got up and went to the carriage.
We were told that a passenger was giving birth in the cabin. She was transferred to the back rows, and the crew decided what to do with her – the flight was going to be very long. After talking with the woman, we learned that this was her 5th birth. Worried about her pulse and the risk of bleeding.
As a result, a colleague took delivery, and then I took care of the child. We had to do everything without the necessary tools – we managed with a meager set of on-board first-aid kit – and in addition to calm the worried flight attendants.
Fortunately, everything ended well. And the plane was turned around so as not to risk it: it landed in Beijing, the mother and the newborn were taken to the hospital.
Childbirth on the plane through the eyes of the crew
In 2018, for the first time, I gave birth on board an airplane, but not for the first time. In the past, I was an emergency nurse. Not long before these births, my usual working day went like this, so I am mentally ready for anything. In addition, all flight attendants are trained to deliver, although in practice they are very rare. And yet every 2 years we refresh this knowledge.
The plane was flying from Osh to Yekaterinburg, we had just gained altitude, and the pregnant passenger began to complain of pain in her lower back and stomach. We examined it and realized that the waters had broken.
In order not to embarrass either the woman herself or the other passengers, we arranged her in the back seats and covered her with screens, and my colleagues entrusted me with delivering.
The woman herself had to be asked about the course of the pregnancy – her exchange card remained in the luggage.
The boy appeared 15 minutes after the break of the waters, was born prematurely, at the 29th week.
Then the crew decided to return to the airport of departure, to Osh, and we handed over the woman in labor to the medical workers. And a few months later we met again with mom and baby on board, everything was fine with them.
flight attendant of Taimyr Airlines (now – Nordstar), took birth on the flight Krasnodar – Norilsk
In May 2015, my team and I had an unexpected birth. The woman received permission from the doctor to fly (in the last trimester, you can only fly with a certificate, but we will talk about this below. – Approx. “Secret”), nothing foreshadowed the onset of labor, but the contractions began literally 10 minutes after takeoff.
There were no doctors among the passengers, so my three colleagues and I gave birth for the first time in our lives. We were very worried, but everything went quickly and without complications.
Feelings and emotions were unreal, adrenaline overwhelmed. A more experienced colleague, Yulia, suggested what to do next, step by step.
It was scary to touch the baby – all of a sudden I’ll do something wrong: so small, soft. I rolled him over on his back, patted him on the back, he screamed, and we all exhaled.
flight attendant of the airline “Polar Airlines”, took birth on the flight “Zyryanka – Yakutsk”
I personally encountered childbirth on an airplane for the first time in May 2014. The woman we gave birth to, Irina, flew to Yakutsk just in time to give birth. She was 7 months old, but with a rather large belly – as it turned out, twins. Irina was accompanied by obstetrician-gynecologist Elena and a friend, and this helped us a lot in the end. We have no right not to let you on the plane at such a time, especially since the travel time is 3 hours, which is not much. Although, it seems to me, the midwife assumed that Irina could give birth in flight.
I saw how at some point Irina and the midwife went to the toilet together, and when they returned, they rejected the seat so that Irina lay down, and the midwife told me that the water had broken, contractions began.
The midwife and a friend rubbed Irina’s back and to my question “Do we give birth or tolerate?” the midwife said they would try to be patient. But in the end, I had to take birth on board about 2 hours after the start of the flight.
I moved Irina and her “team” to the front seats, there is more space, made a screen, brought gloves to the midwife.
The twins were born at the very end of the flight. The first at 18:35, when we were descending, the second at 18:45, on landing. Irina behaved very calmly – she did not shout, she did not fuss. This is her second birth, as it turned out. And the babies born were also calm.
Passengers were very interested in what was happening, asked who was born there, applauded, rejoiced.
It was my first experience. 3 months in aviation – and such a baptism of fire. But it is surprising that there was no panic: in the process I was calm as a soldier – adrenaline flooded then, I was shaking strongly from the realization of the stress I had experienced. I don’t know how I would have coped with everything if I had been alone, without a midwife.
We are taught, of course, to take birth, I always carry a notebook with notes, but it’s still scary.
How airlines treat childbirth on board
There are no official statistics on how often women give birth on board an aircraft. Crew members say that you can fly for many years and never experience childbirth. Even in the practice of the airlines themselves, this is a rarity: for example, Finnair had its first birth on board in 2008, and the company has been carrying passengers since 1923. There is a foreign study that indicates that from 1929 to 2018 in the world, childbirth occurred on 73 commercial flights.
Flight attendants are trained to deliver. They not only study the theory, but also work out the practice on simulators. Sometimes it is not necessary to apply knowledge in real life – in 50% of cases, a doctor is found among the passengers on board.
Most airlines, in order to reduce risks, follow the recommendations of doctors and do not allow pregnant women on board from the 37th week. And from the 28th week they ask to show a certificate from the gynecologist that there are no complications and risks of giving birth prematurely and that the flight is allowed. But it is better to check the rules of a particular carrier before buying a ticket.
Airlines have different ways of treating pregnant women in the last trimester on board an aircraft. Ural Airlines transport pregnant women at any time, but with a fresh (no more than 24 hours before departure time) certificate from a gynecologist. “Russia” asks for a certificate only in the last 4-8 weeks. Foreign carriers have stricter conditions: Turkish Arlines does not accept pregnant women for a period of more than 36 weeks, and with twins for a period of no more than 32 weeks.
What will be the birth in the sky
If it turned out that it is necessary to fly, or the 36th week is still far away, but the child nevertheless decided to appear in the sky, in addition to the unique experience, mother and baby can receive additional bonuses. For example, gifts from the airline.
The carrier “Polar Airlines” gave the twins, who were born on the flight “Zyryanka – Yakutsk”, free flights on this route. True, only until adulthood. But the baby, who appeared on board AirAsia, will fly the airline’s flights for free for life. In 2021, a newly minted Aeroflot passenger received an unlimited golden airline card.
True, not everyone receives free flights – this is not spelled out in the standards of airlines, everything will be at the discretion of the management.
If the flight is international, there is a chance for a more interesting bonus – foreign citizenship for a newborn. Usually children receive citizenship through their parents: this is called “right of blood”. This principle is followed by many countries, including Russia. The baby of Russian parents will automatically receive Russian citizenship, wherever he is born.
But he can also apply for the citizenship of another country – at the place of birth. This is called the “right of the soil”.
On board the aircraft, the law of the country in which it is registered applies. Therefore, the most common practice in the “law of the soil” is when a newborn is given citizenship of the country of registration of the board. But it happens that citizenship is given to a child according to the country over which the plane flew during childbirth or to which it was heading. It all depends on the laws of a particular state.
As Kirill Gribov, a lawyer at Varshavsky and Partners, explains, Soil Law works mainly in the West: in the USA and Canada. In the US, this rule applies with a caveat. “Everyone who was born in this country becomes a US citizen. But the United States did not recognize the Convention on the reduction of…