What Is the Citizenship of a Baby Born on an International Flight?

Yes, it happens.

Flying with babies and young children is tough enough for parents — what with having to fend off disapproving fellow passengers and navigating the airlines' varied and complex policies — so imagine actually delivering a baby on a plane. Probably no-one would choose to give birth mid-flight, but unexpected things, like premature labor, do happen. And, as on this Turkish Airlines flight, they can result in a charming story. And among all of the complex logistical questions that arise when a baby is born while thousands of feet in the sky above a country from which neither parent hails is this one: How is the baby's nationality determined?

Some countries say that a baby can only assume the citizenship of one or both of its parents. But other countries, including the United States, grant citizenship to babies born on their soil. These two principals are known jus soli and jus sanguinis; meaning "right of soil" versus "right of blood." The U.S. follows the principal of jus soli — which is why, in 2015, when a Taiwanese woman gave birth on a flight to Los Angeles, she was accused of engaging in "birth tourism." That is to say, people wondered if she was seeking U.S. citizenship for her child by delivering it in the U.S.

On the other hand, the U.K., for example, follows the principal of jus sanguinis, meaning that even if a baby was delivered in U.K. airspace, its nationality would be dependent upon those of its parents.

Things get a little more complicated, however, if the aircraft is registered in yet another country. Atlas Obscura notes that, according to the United Nations, a baby born on a flight is a citizen of the country where the airline is registered." However, because the United States is not a party to the U.N. Convention of the Reduction of Statelessness, if that airplane is outside of U.S airspace, the principal of jus soli does not apply. The government states that "a U.S.-registered aircraft outside U.S. airspace is not considered to be part of U.S. territory. A child born on such an aircraft outside U.S. airspace does not acquire U.S. citizenship by reason of the place of birth." So, in this case, the nationality of the baby would be only that of the parents.

Want to know more? Here are three amazing things that happen when a baby is born on an airplane in flight.

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