Pregnant women banned from flying are being discriminated against by airlines whose reasons aren't backed up by medical or scientific evidence, a gender expert has said.
Many airlines impose a total ban on pregnant women flying past a deadline, which can vary from 28 to 37 weeks of pregnancy.
The self-declared 'fit to fly' conditions on pregnant women are justified by airlines on the grounds of health and safety, says University of Canterbury associate professor Annick Masselot, but she believes there's no evidence to support the ban.
She suggests the ban is instead a form of control to "limit the potential inconvenience'' of dealing with a woman going into labour on a plane.
"There should not be any reason to request a medical certificate or refuse women to board a plane based on pregnancy,'' Prof Masselot said.
"There is no reason to impose such conditions on pregnant women when passengers who might suffer from, for example, high blood pressure or heart problems are not requested to provide any evidence of their ability to fly.
“Pregnancy is not a form of illness.''
The latest evidence from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) also agrees that air travel during pregnancy, even at advanced stages of pregnancy, poses no significant risk to a woman or her baby.
Professor Ian Greer, from the University of Liverpool, wrote in a paper that, "For uncomplicated pregnancies there is no reason to give advice against commercial air travel, and specifically there is no issue with travel in early pregnancy as the main consideration is risk of labour.
"However if the woman has a history of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy it would be sensible to suggest ultrasound prior to travel to confirm the location and viability of the pregnancy."
Other risks of pregnant women flying include the fact that morning sickness could be made worse in the air. In addition, expecting women are warned about the small increase in the risk of deep vein thrombosis; Prof Greer suggests that pregnant women wear compression stockings on flights of four hours or more.
The practice of refusing pregnant women on flights, widespread around the world, could even be illegal, Prof Masselot said.
But there has not been any legal challenge, and people don't usually question the flying conditions because of "the existence of widespread and deeply ingrained gender stereotypes''.
"These stereotypes are harmful because women who are pregnant have their right to move limited by airlines for no scientific reason,'' said Prof Masselot, who has been asked to report on fighting pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination for the European Commission.
WHAT THE AIRLINES SAY
If you are 28 weeks pregnant or more, you will be required to carry a letter from your doctor or midwife, dated no more than 10 days prior to travel, outlining the estimated due date, single or multiple pregnancies, the absence of complications, and your fitness to fly for the duration of the flight(s) booked. (See more on the Virgin website.)
For flights more than four hours: For routine pregnancies, you can travel up to the end of the 36th week for single pregnancies and the end of the 32nd week for multiple pregnancies. On flights less than four hours: For routine pregnancies, you can travel up to the end of the 40th week for single pregnancies and the end of the 36th week for multiple pregnancies.
After 28 weeks, you need to carry a certificate or letter from a registered medical practitioner or registered midwife confirming:
- the estimated date of delivery;
- whether it is a single or multiple pregnancy;
- that the pregnancy is a routine pregnancy and that there are no complications with the pregnancy.
(See more on the Qantas website.)
It is the duty of pregnant passengers to advise us of the progress of their pregnancy at the point of booking of seat. Our carriage of pregnant passengers is subject to the following conditions:
- Pregnancy less than 30 weeks: we will accept you for the flight unless there are other medical conditions that affect your fitness to travel.
- Pregnancy more than 30 weeks and less than 35 weeks: please produce a doctor's certificate confirming that you are fit to travel on the flight
- Pregnancy 35 weeks and over: we will not accept you for traveling on the flight.
(See more on the Tiger website.)
Mums-to-be are welcome to fly with us anytime up to the start of 36th week of a normal pregnancy. Those who are 28 weeks pregnant would need to seek medical clearance prior to flying. If you have experienced complications or are expecting multiple births we recommend that you speak to your doctor before booking. Most experts strongly advise against flying during the last 2-3 weeks of your pregnancy. (See more on the Jetstar website.)