When you are pregnant, you can’t avoid traveling for months together. It could be a business trip, a visit to your parents’ place or a babymoon trip, traveling could be inevitable. But your doctor must have suggested a cut-down on air travel during pregnancy.
Airlines, too, recommend against air travel after you reach a certain stage in pregnancy. Why do they do that? Is it safe to fly during pregnancy?
This MomJunction post tells you if it is safe to fly during pregnancy, gives you some tips to follow, and answers some frequently asked questions.
Is It Safe To Travel By Air During Pregnancy?
Air travel is considered safe up to 36 weeks of pregnancy in the case of a healthy pregnancy. Most commercial airlines allow pregnant women to fly, while international flights may seek documents on the gestation period (1). Different airlines have different rules (see the box for more).
The table lists out the travel policies of the top airlines around the world. These guidelines are only for those with a healthy pregnancy, and no history of risks.
Airlines Travel policy for pregnant women Air Canada/Air Canada Rouge/Air Canada Express Flying permitted up to and including the 36th week. Air France Medical clearance is not mandatory, but a doctor’s approval is advisable. Flying is not permitted in the last month, and also after seven days following delivery. Also, seating in exit rows is not allowed. Alaska Airlines No restrictions or medical clearance is needed. Doctor’s consultation is suggested. Allegiant Air Requires medical approval from the doctor All Nippon Airways Medical information forms are to be submitted if traveling within 28 days of the estimated due date (EDD); the physician should accompany if traveling within 14 days of EDD. Air India Flying permitted up to and including the 32nd week; for normal pregnancy up to the 35th week along with a medical certificate attested by the physician. If it is beyond 35th week, travel is accepted only on urgent or compassionate basis after filling airlines MEDIF form. Air New Zealand Pregnant women carrying multiples can fly up to the end of the 31st week; Single and uncomplicated pregnancies can board flights over four hours by the end of 36th week, and flights under five hours by the end of the 37th week. Past 28th week, medical letter attested by the doctor confirming your pregnancy dates is needed. American Airlines Flying is not permitted if your due date is within seven days on domestic flights under five hours. Not allowed within 30 days of the due date on international flights. If you have to travel within these time periods, you need to obtain clearance from a special assistance coordinator. British Airways Apart from the medical records, a medical letter from the physician that confirms the EDD and no complications is recommended for those beyond 28 weeks. Flying is allowed for single pregnancies up to 36th week, and multiples up to 32nd week. Cathay Pacific Medical certificate is recommended for those beyond 28 weeks, flying is not permitted past 36 weeks for single pregnancies and past 32 weeks for multiples. If the pregnancy is complicated, travel is accepted after submitting the airline’s MEDA form before 48 hours of planned departure. Delta Airlines No restrictions on air travel and no medical certificate is needed. Confirmation from the doctor is advisable if you are traveling past the 8th month. EasyJet No restrictions up to the 27th week. Medical certificate attested by the doctor is recommended if traveling between the 28th and 35th weeks. The certificate must be issued within five days of the travel date. Flying is not permitted beyond the 36th week. Emirates Medical certificate attested by the doctor is recommended if you have entered the 29th week of pregnancy. Flying beyond 36th week for single and uncomplicated pregnancies, and 32nd week for multiple and uncomplicated pregnancies is only allowed after clearance from Emirates Medical Services. Frontier Airlines No restrictions or medical clearance is needed. Women in their 9th month need to take confirmation from the physician. Those with complications shouldn’t fly at all. Hawaiian Airlines Flying is allowed within 7 days of EDD if there are no medical complications, and only within Hawaii. Those with difficulties or poor health are permitted only with a medical certificate. Traveling outside Hawaii within 30 days of EDD requires a written certificate by the physician who has to examine before 48 hours of departure. Japan Airlines Medical certificate from the physician is recommended for those traveling beyond the 28th week when the due date is not certain, or they have multiple pregnancies or a history of premature labor. If the due date is within 14 days, an obstetrician should accompany the mother. JetBlue Airways Travel within 7 days of the due date is restricted unless a medical certificate, dated no more than 72 hours to departure, is provided. Lufthansa Women with complication-free pregnancy can travel until the 36th week for single pregnancies and until the 28th week for multiples. A medical certificate is needed for those beyond the 28th week. The certificate should mention the EDD and confirmation of no complications. Qantas For flights longer than four hours, flying is permitted up to the end of the 36th week for single pregnancies and end of the 32nd week for multiples. For flights less than four hours, flying is permitted up to the end of the 40th week for single pregnancies, and end of the 36th week for multiples. Medical certificate attested by the registered medical practitioner is recommended for travel after the 28th week. Singapore Airlines Travel is restricted beyond 36th week for single pregnancies and beyond the 32nd week for multiples. For single and uncomplicated pregnancies between 29 and 36 weeks, medical certificate, mentioning the gestation period, EDD, and fitness approval, is needed. Also, the certificate should be dated within ten days of travel. Southwest Airlines Restriction on travel from the 38th week. Recommends consulting physicians prior to travel at any stage of pregnancy. In some cases, based on pregnant woman’s physical condition, strength, and agility, seating at the emergency rows is prohibited. Spirit Airlines No firm restrictions. Recommends women in the 8th month to get checked by the obstetrician shortly before travel. Turkish Airlines Flying is allowed up to the 35th week for single pregnancies, and up to the 31st week for multiples. Medical clearance must be dated within seven days to travel along with doctor’s name, diploma number and attestation. United Airlines Medical documentation is not needed for those traveling within 36 weeks. Travel in or after the 36th week requires a medical certificate and two copies of obstetrician’s certificate dated within three days to departure.
When Is The Best Time To Fly During Pregnancy?
The safest time to fly is the second trimester that is approximately between 13 and 24 weeks. By now you are past the first trimester, which is a delicate time in your pregnancy. Also, you are a few weeks away from the third trimester, when your movements become slower and sitting for long hours uncomfortable (2).
Plan a trip when you are likely to feel the best, and if you have any medical complications, discuss with your doctor.
International Air Travel During Pregnancy
International travel could be an issue due to the length of the trip, pregnancy complications, and the risk of contracting diseases. It is especially difficult in the following cases:
- It is your first pregnancy
- You are younger than 15 years or older than 35
- You are carrying twins or multiples
- You are at risk of miscarriage or vaginal bleeding
- You have placental abnormalities
- You have a history of miscarriage, diabetes, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, premature labor or ectopic pregnancy
In all these cases, you should have a thorough discussion with your doctor. Your doctor may discourage you from traveling:
- At altitudes higher than 12,000 feet
- To regions with disease breakouts
- If the trip needs live virus vaccines for protection
Whether it is international or domestic, your air travel can become less bothersome if you plan it properly by following some travel tips.
Tips For Having A Safe Air Journey During Pregnancy
If you are having a healthy pregnancy without any complications, flying should not be a big deal. Here is the list of things you need to follow, both before and during travel for safety and comfort (3) (4).
Things to do before you travel:
- Schedule the travel for a low-risk time: Medical experts recommend against traveling before 12 weeks and after 28 weeks. Also, most airlines do not allow women to fly after 36 weeks due to the risk of entering into labor. Therefore, plan the travel during a time when you are at a low risk of complications, which is usually in the second trimester.
- Carry your medical documents: Undergo a complete examination and carry the necessary pregnancy-related medical documents that show your expected due date, blood type, and the doctor contact information. Some airlines also ask for a medical certificate attested by the doctor. Traveling to some regions necessitates certain immunizations.
- Plan your journey: You should have at least one traveling partner who has your entire emergency contact list. Also, save your doctor’s, and family members’ contact numbers on their phone. Plan your travel in short distance flights; if you are flying long distance, do a break journey. This way, you can rest, eat and recharge yourself.
- Carry your medications: Pack your regular pregnancy medications, and also those that you might need to get relief from some common problems associated with traveling, such as jet lag, traveler’s diarrhea, altitude sickness, and sunburn.
- Know the rules: Each airline might have different rules. Before booking your ticket, check their website or call them to know about such rules. If you are booking through an agent, tell them about your pregnancy. This way, you will not have any last-minute surprises, and also the airline crew might take extra care to make you comfortable while flying.
- Get travel insurance: You might be already having medical insurance coverage. Learn about it, and get an idea of what is covered for travel. Check if it includes your delivery expenses while traveling. You may also consider buying supplementary travel insurance that covers emergency evacuation.
- Pack your kit: Travel light and smart by following the below tips.
- Pack all the essential things, including your passport, identity card, tickets, travel documents, mobile phone, medications, and medical documents, in your carry-along baggage. Also, carry a gadget charger and some light snacks.
- Know about the things that your airline would offer for free so that you do not have to pack unnecessary things in your hand luggage.
- Carry a lumbar cushion to use if the journey and the waiting get prolonged.
- Wear loose, layered and comfortable clothes. Decompression stockings help in better blood flow as your feet might swell.
- Carry some home remedies for nausea and motion sickness.
- Do not lift anything heavy: Pack light and efficiently as you are not supposed to lift heavy bags. Seek the help of the airline or TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agent in carrying and putting the luggage on the conveyer belt. Likewise, take the help of the cabin crew in placing your baggage in the overhead cabin.
Things to do in the flight:
- Select an aisle seat: It gives you more room to stretch and allows you to move in and out of the seat. You may also request for a bulkhead seat (the one that separates the first class from economy and has more legroom).
- Keep yourself hydrated: Drink enough water to prevent dehydration during the flight. This will also make you visit the washroom often, which means that you can take frequent walks and avoid circulatory issues such as deep vein thrombosis.
- Eat in moderate amounts: Have light and smaller meals. Avoid salty and spicy foods. Consume fresh fruits such as plums, oranges, grapes, and dried apricots.
- Fasten your seatbelt: Buckle the seat belt under your abdomen, low on your hipbones. Wearing it through the journey could lower the risk of injury from turbulence.
- Protect your skin: Your skin turns sensitive when you are pregnant, and also the UV rays are powerful at higher altitudes. Therefore, apply a high-quality sunscreen.
These measures will not only help you have a comfortable flight but also keep yourself prepared for any health requirements while flying.
When To Seek Help?
Air travel is mostly safe, and you do not have to get scared about it. However, it is good to know about what to do if something goes wrong during travel. You should seek emergency medical help in the case of:
- Vaginal discharge, either passing clots or tissue
- Bleeding or spotting
- Uterine contractions
- Abdominal cramping
- Excessive swelling in the legs
- Vision problems
Let us reiterate that air travel may not pose any serious problems to you if you are not having any pregnancy complications. In the next section, we answer some specific questions that our readers commonly ask.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is it safe to pass through the screening machines while pregnant?
Airport screening machines or metal detectors use low-energy radiation or minute doses of X-rays that are unlikely to harm you or your baby.
Even the wands that are run over the body are not harmful to pregnant women. These metal detectors do not use the X-rays and they are not dangerous. If you have concerns getting scanned by the machines, then you can opt for physical ‘pat-down’ security checks.
2. Will the cabin pressure in the airplane harm my baby?
As long as you are healthy and medically cleared for air travel, the pressure should not pose any problem for you or your baby. However, the heart rate and blood pressure may increase in some women due to the low air pressure in the cabin.
Women with a history of sickle cell disease, anemia, placental inefficiency, and blood clots must avoid air travel. But if flying is unavoidable, then they can ask for supplemental oxygen during the flight. Avoid small, unpressurized planes as they may cause lightheadedness or shortness of breath.
3. Can my morning sickness increase due to air travel?
Increase in altitude or temperature can aggravate nausea. Your body can only adjust to the new environment in three to five days.
Also, you might have dehydration at higher altitudes. Therefore, you need to take fluids to stay hydrated.
It may not be easy to travel by air during pregnancy but it may not be dangerous either if you do not have any complications. Try to avoid air travel in the first and third trimesters, and follow the tips that we have shared in this post. That will make your travel more comfortable and safe. But remember to consult your doctor before planning your journey.
Have you traveled on an airplane during pregnancy? Do share your experience in the comment section below.
2. Dos and don’ts of traveling while pregnant; The University of Utah (2019)
3. Pregnancy and travel; Better Health Channel (2015)
4. Tips for traveling moms-to-be; The University of Chicago Medical Center (2017)