What nationality do babies born on a plane have?

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Many have asked us how the nationality of babies born in flight is determined. When it comes to children who are born during a flight, determining their nationality would depend on certain factors. Various countries have different principles for granting citizenship to these airborn children.

The issue revolves around two primary concepts: "jus soli" (right of the soil) and "jus sanguinis" (right of blood). However, the occurrence of in-flight births is rare, but quite a few cases have been recorded.

Most companies allow pregnant women to travel up to the 36th week of pregnancy, and from the 28th week the pregnant woman must present a document signed by a doctor stating the approximate date at which the pregnant woman is expected to give birth, a typical pregnancy being 40-42 weeks.

"Only one birth occurs among approximately 26 million air passengers. While it might sound intriguing, these births are a tiny fraction compared to the more than 350.000 daily births globally”, according to data from Condé Nast Traveler.

The parents of a child born on board an aircraft can apply for four types of citizenship:

  • the citizenship of the country in whose airspace the birth took place
  • the citizenship of the country where the aircraft is to land
  • the nationality of the country of origin of the airline
  • the citizenship of the newborn's parents

Countries that grant citizenship to children born in their airspace

Currently, there are 33 countries in the world that offer unrestricted birthright citizenship, and essentially any child born in the airspace or undersea of ​​any of those 33 countries is automatically a citizen of such country, Tekedia reported, a news platform.

"These countries include the following: United States of America, Canada, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Bolivia, Chad, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Lesotho, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uruguay and finally Venezuela”, notes Tekedia.

In the United States, if a child is born on a plane over US territory or in its airspace, it is automatically granted US citizenship based on the principle of "jus soli". This principle confers citizenship on persons born on a country's territory, which includes its airspace.

In contrast, countries such as the United Kingdom adhere to the principle of "jus sanguinis", where citizenship is determined by the nationality of the parents. According to a report by Simple Flying, babies born to non-British parents while flying over UK airspace usually do not acquire British citizenship.

Nigeria is another country that exemplifies this scenario; if Nigerian parents give birth to a child in the air over the airspace of another sovereign state, the child is eligible to receive Nigerian citizenship, according to Tekedia media.

In the same case, if a child is born to Nigerian parents in Royal Air Maroc, which is an aircraft registered in Casablanca, Morocco, the child can acquire Moroccan citizenship.

Certain countries, such as Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, offer unrestricted birthright citizenship to children born in their airspace or on their territory. However, the scenario becomes more complex when babies are born across international waters or in areas without territorial rights.

In cases where a child is born in such circumstances and could become stateless, the nationality of the aircraft's registration may be taken into account. This implies that the baby would acquire the nationality of the country where the aircraft is registered, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

In practice, births during flights are uncommon, as pregnant women in their third trimester are usually restricted from flying.

Also, most airlines have policies that prohibit these flights, making such occurrences quite rare. In fact, there have only been about 75 recorded incidents of in-flight births throughout the history of aviation, a report by Simple Flying showed.

There have been specific cases of in-flight births, such as on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Chicago in September 2021, when a passenger from Morocco gave birth. Another birth took place on a flight from Doha to Beirut in July 2019. However, these events are exceptional and usually the nationality of the child matches that of the parents.

In such situations the rules mentioned above come into play. For example, if a child is born on a US military aircraft during the evacuation from Afghanistan in 2021, they would hold Afghan citizenship, as would their parents, because the aircraft is not considered an extension of US territory. Therefore, the nationality of the child is not determined only by the place of birth.

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