Is It Safe?
If you planning to travel while pregnant, be sure to ask when you make an airline reservation for the airline’s policy on pregnant passengers. Call your airline or check their website before traveling to find out the specific requirements based on your situation. Be sure to let them know how far along you will be when the trip takes place and ask if a doctor’s note is required.
You should also check with your insurance company to make sure that they will cover you if something goes wrong while you are on the road, and don't have some type of exclusion for pregnancy after a certain number of weeks have passed. Women who are in the "high risk" category should probably not travel unless you have fully discussed this with your doctor. Some doctors recommend that women not fly at all during their last six weeks of pregnancy, due to the risks of pre-term labor.
Traveling during the second trimester is often easiest, after the early pangs of morning sickness have subsided and your energy levels are up, but you are still a safe distance away from delivery. Airline policies vary, but some require that you present a note from a doctor or midwife stating that you are fit for travel.
For example, British Airways recommends that after your 28th week, you should carry a letter from your doctor or midwife that states that “you are in good health, that they are happy for you to fly, and that (in their opinion) there is no reason why you cannot fly.” American and United require that pregnant passengers traveling within 30 days of expected delivery provide such a note. Southwest allows passengers to travel up to 14 days prior to their due date without a medical letter, and Continental does not require a letter until you are 7 days from your delivery date. The reason for the restriction is that airlines want to avoid the risk that you might give birth on the flight. In fact, United’s website specifically states that “Passengers who are in labor will be denied boarding,” which seems like a sound policy, though many might wonder why someone would want to board an airplane while in labor. Evidently, someone has tried, and thus another airline policy was born.
You might consider requesting wheelchair assistance and have the airline personnel carry your bags onto the plane and stow them for you. Some airlines and their employees are more helpful than others on-the-fly. Plan ahead and make requests for special assistance ahead of time, and find out your airline’s policy on this.
Flight attendants may not be permitted to carry things for passengers due to personal health and safety concerns, so it is not a given that they will help you with luggage or child-wrangling. My experience with flight attendents has run the gamut from a few who actually helped carry and stow the luggage to those who stood by with arms folded and said, "You're on your own." A co-pilot for Northwest generously carried my bags out for me when 3 1/2 year-old Alex refused to wake up on a flight to San Jose. Often, other passengers will assist you, but be sure to travel light just in case you have to carry things yourself. A backpack, rather than a shoulder bag might be helpful in these situations.
Tips for being more comfortable on your flight:
- Reserve an aisle seat so that you can get to and from the bathroom easily and take walks up and down the aisle.
- Walking a few times during the trip may help combat swelling. After the plane has reached cruising altitude, you can also pull out a small bag from underneath the seat in front of you to uses as a footrest to elevate your feet a bit. On larger planes, Business Class and First Class seats often come with built-in foot rests and recline so that you can keep your feet up during the trip.
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and flat shoes. Wear layers if you are prone to body-temperature fluctuations.
- Keep your seatbelt low around your hips, not around your abdomen.
- Ask for a seatbelt extension, if the regular seatbelt is uncomfortable for you or doesn’t fit.
- Ask the flight attendant for a pillow and place it under your lower back to help avoid back strain.
- Drink lots of water--at least one liter for every two hours in flight. Even though this may increase your already-frequent bathroom trips, it is important to stay hydrated.
It is something of an urban legend that a baby born on an airplane will receive free travel for the rest of his or her life, although it has happened twice on non-US carriers. Sorry.