Yesterday, a friend of mine who works as a purser (chief flight attendant) helped a lady with delivering her baby during a flight to Manila, Philippines while over the ocean :)

I know that pregnant ladies after their 7th month (in this particular airlines) are not allowed to travel by air but she somehow managed to be on-board (it is her responsibility to declare that). Anyway the baby was delivered in a professional way as if he was delivered in a hospital and he is fine and healthy :)

My question: What will be the place of birth for the baby? The origin country or destination country of the flight? Or somewhere else? Are there any related rules regarding this delivery?

  • 3
    It's not true that "pregnant ladies on 7th month are not allowed to air travel". This is up to each airline... there are no laws covering this as far as I know. And in practice there are some airlines that have no limit on this and you can travel in the 9th month if you want.
    – JoelFan
    Sep 13 '12 at 21:18
  • 3
    It seems unlikely that an airline could refuse to let a pregnant woman travel. In the U.S., at least, it could be considered a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I would think that at most they could politely advise against it.
    – Kyralessa
    Sep 14 '12 at 2:46
  • This is such a good question that I could not resist taking part. As a place of birth, I'd suggest to be "Pacific Ocean". It would be weird to put gps coordinates :) Congrats on a flying baby!!! I think as regards to nationality of the child, it is very dependent of circumstances of applicable laws, sometimes more than one law will apply sometimes applies none. But the question was: What would be the place?
    – ljgww
    Sep 14 '12 at 4:53
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    @Kyralessa, I disagree. For reasons of passenger safety they can do just about anything. I'm almost certain that airline safety regulations trump the ADA big time.
    – JoelFan
    Sep 14 '12 at 11:51
  • 2
    I am not sure about that: you have the permission of the owner of the photograph to share it, but you probably also need the permission of each person appearing on it.
    – Taladris
    Jul 27 '16 at 12:45

According to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, Article 3:

For the purpose of assigning nationality, birth on a ship or aircraft shall amount to birth in the territory of the State that gives its flag to that ship or aircraft.

However, only about 40 nations (not including the USA) have ratified this convention - and what territory a birth has occurred on is not necessarily what determines citizenship.

So in reality, it's a huge mess between:

  • what country the plane is registered in
  • what country's territory the plane was flying over at the moment of birth
  • the nationality of the mother and father
  • whether these countries' laws claim jurisdiction over in-air births
  • whether these countries' laws are based on the jus soli or the jus sanguinis principle
  • whether these countries' laws allow dual nationalities

In theory, you may have cases where none of the countries involved would grant the baby citizenship, or where two (or even three) would grant it automatic and exclusive citizenship.

In practice, I suspect that in almost all cases at least one of them would grant citizenship, and it's up to the mother which one she applies for - and up to the bureaucrats how difficult that is.

A separate question is what the "place of birth" on the birth certificate will say - I suspect that's up to the discretion of said bureaucrats, since it will have little importance in most cases.

Update: I recently found an article that has a real-world example. It pretty much agrees with what I wrote, namely the person portrayed got her mother's UK citizenship with a passport note saying "Holder born on an aeroplane 10 miles south of Mayfield, Sussex.", which later had to be changed to "born at sea" to comply with an EU directive. US State Department rules, on the other hand, would list the place of birth as "in the air".

  • 18
    Their strictness is to attempt to reduce the number of "medical diversions" where a plane has to land early to take someone off for medical attention. Since most labours last much longer than most flights, in-air delivery must be extraordinarily rare Sep 13 '12 at 17:13
  • 1
    And if the plane as well as the baby were just about to cross the border and each had parts of their body on both sides of two countries at the moment of birth, that would add another complexity. Still worse, if a similar thing happened at a point where three or more countires meet, that will be even more complicated.
    – sawa
    Sep 14 '12 at 6:33
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    @Andra, I bet that citizenship issues play no role in the airlines refusing pregnant passengers... that does not affect the airline at all... the diversion and liability issues are all they care about
    – JoelFan
    Sep 14 '12 at 11:54
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    @sawa, there is no way that would come into play in an airline issue, unless the flight was purposefully flying directly along a border for a significant period of time
    – JoelFan
    Sep 14 '12 at 11:56
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    It is not as your post makes it seem. The actual text says "For the purpose of determining the obligations of Contracting States under this Convention, birth on a ship or in an aircraft shall be deemed to have taken place in the territory of the State whose flag the ship flies or in the territory of the State in which the aircraft is registered, as the case may be." The "obligations of Contracting States under this Convention" only pertains to people who would otherwise be stateless at birth. Almost all people born in this world have some nationality at birth via jus sanguinis at least.
    – user102008
    Dec 18 '13 at 7:16

Conveniently as ever, Wikipedia has a page on Birth aboard aircraft and ships.

The law on the subject, despite the provisions of Article 3 the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, is complex, because various states apply differing principles of nationality, namely jus soli and jus sanguinis, to varying degrees and with varying qualifications.

In general:

Under the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation, articles 17–21, all aircraft have the nationality of the state in which they are registered, and may not have multiple nationalities. For births, the law of the aircraft's nationality is applicable, and for births that occur in flight while the aircraft is not within the territory of any state, it is the only applicable law. However, if the aircraft is in or flying over the territory of another state, that state may also have concurrent jurisdiction, and the locus in quo principle may apply to the exact position of the aircraft when the birth occurred.

There are still very few Member States that are party to the 1961 Convention. Furthermore, conflicts of laws still exist, in particular between the laws of North and South American states, which typically adhere to the jus soli principle, and the laws of European states, which usually adhere to the jus sanguinis principle.

The U.S. exception:

U.S. law holds that natural persons born on foreign ships docked at U.S. ports or born within the limit of U.S. territorial waters are U.S. citizens. An important exception to this rule is that children born to people who (in line with the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution) are not "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States (e.g. diplomats accredited with the United States Department of State) are not automatically U.S. citizens. Despite a common misconception to the contrary, birth on board a U.S.-flagged ship, airliner, or military vessel outside of the 12-nautical mile (22.2 km/ 13-13/16 st. mi.) limit is not considered to be a birth on U.S. territory, and the principle of jus soli thus does not apply.

  • 1
    What law is applicable on an aircraft is irrelevant to the determination of nationality. The convention does not say that birth on an aircraft is treated the same as birth in the country's territory. Every country's nationality law applies everywhere.
    – user102008
    Dec 18 '13 at 7:23
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    The 1961 Convention is rarely relevant, because it only deals with people who would otherwise be stateless at birth, which is extremely rare. Probably 99.9% of people would have some nationality from jus sanguinis, even without a place of birth.
    – user102008
    Dec 18 '13 at 7:24
  • Related Politics.SE
    – Machavity
    Jan 25 '19 at 16:00
  • 1
    Further to @user102008's comments, the second quotation is just wrong ("For births, the law of the aircraft's nationality is applicable, and for births that occur in flight while the aircraft is not within the territory of any state, it is the only applicable law"). Most countries, if not all, provide that children born outside their territory whose parents are citizens of the country acquire the country's nationality, so the law of the child's parents' country or countries of nationality is also applicable.
    – phoog
    Feb 21 '20 at 17:02
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    Also the "conflicts of laws" statement is odd. It seems to assume that a baby can have only one nationality. But if country A provides that all children born on its aircraft are citizens, and country B provides that all children born in its airspace are citizens, then a child born on an aircraft flagged in country A while flying through country B's airspace will have both nationalities in addition to whatever nationalities it acquires from its parents by virtue of jus sanguinis.
    – phoog
    Feb 21 '20 at 17:05

In principle the law of the native country of the carrier decides. So the answer first really depends on the airline. Then there are complicating factors. Some countries dictate their nationality to offspring of their nationals no matter where they are born. Other countries say that once born on native soil you are by definition their citizen.

So the main answer is that is depends on the the local law of the carrier.

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    Any country's nationality law applies everywhere. Who is a country's national is solely decided by that country. The law of the country of the carrier is no different than the law of any other country in this respect.
    – user102008
    Dec 18 '13 at 7:18

The child's place of birth will depend on the administrative practice of the authorities issuing documents. If the child acquires more than one nationality, it could have different places of birth in different documents.

On the question of the child's nationality, the other answers are wrong. The child's nationality depends on several factors, and the child may acquire multiple nationalities:

  • the child may acquire nationality from the parents. For example, most children born to US citizen parents will be US citizens regardless of the place of birth. Most countries have similar provisions. If the parents have different nationalities or multiple nationalities, the child may acquire more than one nationality from the parents. In some cases, a parent's ability to pass citizenship to a child is different depending on whether the birth takes place in the parent's country of citizenship. If so, and the aircraft is in that country's airspace at the time of the birth, it will be up to the country's legal system to establish whether birth in the country's airspace is to be treated the same as birth in its territory.

  • the child may acquire the nationality of the aircraft's flag country. This will be the case only if the nationality law of the flag country so provides. The Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, mentioned in other answers, requires participating countries to grant nationality in these circumstances only if the child has no other way to acquire at least one nationality. Nothing stops a country from granting citizenship to such children even if they do acquire another nationality, however.

  • the child may acquire the nationality of the country in whose airspace the birth occurs. Again, this will be the case only if the nationality law of the country so provides. If the country does not grant citizenship based on birth in its territory, then this is unlikely to be the case. If the country does grant citizenship to those born in its territory, there will be the additional question of whether airspace is considered to be part of the country's territory for that purpose.

In short, without knowing the the parents' country or countries of nationality, the country's airspace in which the birth occurred, if any, and the flag country of the aircraft, it's impossible to say which of those countries' nationalities the child will have.

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