Air travel and pregnancy

Tips for a Safe, Comfortable Flight

If you’re looking to book a vacation to relax during your pregnancy, you’re in luck: air travel is generally considered safe for pregnant women. As long as there are no complications with the pregnancy and the expecting woman is not flying too close to her due date, flying should present few issues. However, traveling while pregnant does come with a few warnings, such as an increased risk of blood clots and Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) – especially during long flights. To ensure safe and comfortable air travel for both the baby and mommy-to-be, follow these tips from the Cheapflights team.

Air Travel and Pregnancy

Follow these tips for a safe and comfortable flight while pregnant (Image: mliu92) used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

Quick tips for healthy air travel while pregnant

  • Travel with at least one companion who also has your emergency contact information. Before you take off, make sure your doctor’s number is programmed into his or her phone.
  • Carry documentation with your expected date of delivery, doctor’s contact info, and your blood type.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration is always a risk when flying, especially for expectant mothers. Be sure to drink plenty of caffeine-free, non-alcoholic fluids before, during, and after the flight.
  • Wear your seatbelt continuously to minimize risk of injury from unpredictable turbulence.
  • Pack vitamin-rich fresh fruit to snack on during your flight. Grapes, plums, oranges and dried apricots are travel-friendly choices for pregnant women.
  • Wear support hose and comfortable, non-restrictive shoes with adjustable straps in case your feet swell.
  • As always with flying, get up and walk around the cabin every two hours or so.
  • Request an aisle seat to make it easier to get up for walks or bathroom trips.
  • Take an eye mask and ear plugs and wear loose, comfortable clothing.
  • Rest as much as possible while in the air.

When is the best time to fly?

According to the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, air travel is safest for pregnant women during the second trimester – weeks 18 to 24. If you are considering a flight during your pregnancy, always check with both your doctor and the airline before you book your flight.

General consensus in the medical community suggests it is best not to travel pregnant before 12 weeks due to morning sickness and the potentially increased risk of miscarriage. Though many pregnant women have no trouble flying in their first trimester, it is always better to err on the safe side and consult with your physician.

After 28 weeks, when the risk of going into labor increases, most airlines will require a letter from your doctor stating that you are fit for air travel while pregnant and confirming your estimated due date. If you are more than 36 weeks pregnant, many airlines will not let you fly due to the increased risk of delivering on board.

A frequent concern among pregnant fliers is the exposure to naturally occurring cosmic radiation during a flight. However, the risks to both the passenger and her fetus are considered negligible, as the radiation exposure of even the longest flight is around 15 percent of the recommended exposure limit of one millisievert per year. The Federal Aviation Administration has an online calculator you can use to determine radiation exposure received for particular flights.

It’s also recommended that you maintain up-to-date immunizations, in case the need to travel coincides with pregnancy. For travel to destinations requiring vaccinations, it’s advised that you consult your physician.

Each airline has its own rules for flying while pregnant

If you’re booking your flights with an agent, let them know that you’re pregnant when you book your flight and ask that they check that you are permitted to fly. If booking your flights online, be sure to check the airline’s website. It is worth calling ahead to alert the airline about your pregnancy, too: not only can you confirm that you’ll be able to fly, but you can also ensure that you get special service to keep you comfortable during your travels. It’s also recommended that you avoid smaller planes that fly below 7,000 feet, and choose larger planes with pressurized cabins.

Make yourself comfortable

Especially during pregnancy, reserving the right seat on the airplane can make a difference. You will need to be able to get up and move around the plane.

Try to reserve a spacious seat when you make your booking. Many airlines’ websites have information about the varying legroom on each of their seats. If you plan to travel pregnant, it’s worth spending a few extra bucks to get a bit more room. Be aware, though, that traditional “extra legroom” seats, such as those on the exit aisles, are often not permitted to those who are pregnant.

If you can’t reserve ahead, arrive at the airport early and ask for a bulkhead seat. The bulkhead is the partition between business class and economy, for example.

It’s also useful to reserve an aisle seat if you can, especially if you’re traveling long-distance. This will save you from having to squeeze past other passengers every time you want to get out of your seat.

Don’t be shy. When booking or checking in, explain that you’re pregnant and ask if there is any possibility of being upgraded, or having a seat with a couple of open seats next to you.

Flight insurance considerations

Pregnant women can be seen as relatively high-risk, and many insurers will not provide air travel coverage if you have less than eight weeks to go before your due date. You could still claim losses unrelated to your pregnancy, but you might not be covered if you have to cancel your trip due to your pregnancy. To ensure peace of mind on flights while pregnant, look into air travel insurance.

Tips for your vacation

Air Travel and Pregnancy

Once you arrive, it’s time to unwind. (Image: Schwangerschaft) used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

Once the flight’s over, it’s time to enjoy your vacation! Whether you’re traveling to see family, treating yourself to a babymoon or traveling on business, here are just a few more things to consider:

  • Skin is more sensitive during pregnancy, so wear stronger sunscreen than usual.
  • Keep a list of names and numbers to be contacted in case of emergency.
  • Keep a list of local hospitals from the embassy or tourist board.
  • Ask your doctor before embarking on any potentially risky activities, such as diving or water sports.
  • Bring your medical notes, including relevant ultrasounds, with you in case you need to go into a hospital or deliver early.
  • You’re on the ground! Relax and enjoy yourself on what could be your last diaper-free break for a while.
Air Travel and Pregnancy

Don’t forget to relax! (Image: Schwangerschaft) used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

AirlinePregnant Travel Policy
Air CanadaTravel is permitted up to and including the 36th week for women with a normal pregnancy and no previous history of premature labor.
Air FranceMedical clearance is not required, but advised for all pregnant fliers.
AirTran AirwaysPassengers within 30 days of delivery are not permitted to fly, unless a doctor’s certification of fitness to travel has been obtained.
ANA All Nippon AirwaysA medical certificate is required if the passenger is within 28 days of the expected due date. The certificate must be obtained within seven days of the departure date.
American AirlinesTravel is not permitted for seven days before or after the delivery date on domestic flights, and international travel is not allowed within 30 days of the due date, unless special approval from the airline has been given.
British AirwaysMedical certification confirming delivery date and no complications is required for travelers who are beyond 28 weeks pregnant, while travel is allowed up to the 36th week for single pregnancies, and 32 weeks for multiples.
Cathay PacificMedical clearance is required for passengers beyond their 28th week of pregnancy; passengers may not fly past their 36th week for single pregnancies, and 32 weeks for multiples.
Delta Air LinesThere are no restrictions on flying, and no medical certifications are required.
EmiratesA medical certificate attesting to a healthy pregnancy is required for those who are beyond their 29th week of pregnancy. Passengers are not permitted to fly after their 36th week for single pregnancies, and 32 weeks for multiples.
Japan AirlinesA medical consent form signed by a physician must be obtained for passengers whose due date is within four weeks.
JetBlue AirwaysPassengers with delivery dates seven days from the date of travel are prohibited, and a medical certificate signed by a doctor is required.
LufthansaPassengers can fly until the 36th week for single pregnancies, and until the 28th week for multiples. No medical certificate is required, though they are recommended for passengers at their 28th week of pregnancy or beyond.
QantasPregnant fliers need a medical certificate after the 28th week. For flights less than four hours, women can travel up until the 40th week for single pregnancies, and the 36th week for multiples. For flights longer than four hours, women can travel until the end of the 36th week for single pregnancies, and the 32nd week for multiples.
Singapore AirlinesHealth certificates are required for fliers between the 29th and 36th weeks of pregnancy. Travel beyond the 36th week is not permitted for single pregnancies, while travel beyond the 32nd week is not permitted for multiples.
Southwest AirlinesA doctor’s permission is recommended for all pregnant fliers; those who are at or beyond their 38th week of pregnancy are discouraged from flying.
United AirlinesA certificate must be obtained within 72 hours of the flight for passengers in their ninth month of pregnancy or later.
US AirwaysTravel is allowed for pregnant passengers until seven days before the expected delivery; after that, medical permission is required.
Virgin AtlanticNo special permission is needed before the 28th week; after that, a doctor’s permission is required. Women with single pregnancies may fly until their 36th week; women expecting multiples may fly until their 32nd week.

Further reading

Expert tips for flying while pregnant

(Main image: phalinn)

Article by Marissa Willman (886 posts)

Marissa Willman earned a bachelor's degree in journalism before downsizing her life into two suitcases for a teaching gig in South Korea. Seoul was her home base for two years of wanderlusting throughout six countries in Asia. In 2011, Marissa swapped teaching for travel writing and now calls Southern California home.