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Why isn't it discriminatory for airlines to require extra documentation from pregnant women?(21 Posts)
In a bit of a snit about this after British Airways let me fly outbound at 33weeks with no checks but then refused to let me fly the return leg as I had my medical notes rather than a specific doctor's letter. Flew home with EasyJet in the end, whose surprisingly sensible policy got me thinking about the legality of the range of policies about this.
EasyJet explicitly states that pregnancy isn't an illness, so no doctors note is needed. They simply advise women in risky pregnancies to consult their doctors and leave it up to the women to look after their own health. BA and Flybe both require doctor's letters (not your notes!) to prove you have a normal pregnancy and are no more than 36 and 34 weeks pregnant, respectively. The FlyBe website, however, says they recommend that women stop flying at 28 weeks!
Checking both the American and British Colleges of Obstetricians and Gynacologists advice, multiple studies have shown no increased risk for women with healthy pregnancies flying up to 36 weeks. So airlines are presumably trying to protect themselves from liability in rare cases where women deliver early or have complications they don't know about. Both, to me, seem extremely low odds, especially for short domestic flights, and it's clearly it's possible to ensure airlines against these risks as EasyJet does it.
Surely some fraction of morbidly obese or extremely old people are at comparable risk of certain medical conditions striking en route, but it would be thought ridiculous to send all of these demographics off to their GPs for health notes. Can any legal / medical folk tell me why this logic doesn't apply to pregnant women, too?
The point is that those with certain risk factors (one of which is multiple pregnancy) may be putting themselves and their child at greater risk by flying. It is not just that premature birth might happen en route. It is that premature birth is more likely if the mother flies. So flying can be the cause of complications.
Yes, but isn't that the concern of the woman and her doctor rather than the airlines (or more realistically their insurance companies)? Alcohol causes complications, too, but I don't think we'd agree to a policy of only selling bottles of wine to pregnant women with additional documentation of their condition. And similar arguments would apply to other demographic groups - i.e. those with clotting disorders which increase risk of stroke and thrombosis - but the airlines have not developed bespoke policies excluding them from service unless they visit their doctors.
What directly costs airlines money is when they have to divert a flight to make an emergency landing elsewhere if someone goes into labour - this costs tens of thousands.
I think their policies are sensible (and as EJ tends to have short flights, and BA a mixed portfolio where the av flight time is much longer) and nothing to get worked up about.
If BAs policy is Dr's letter, they should have made that clear - sounds like they didn't.
It's because it costs a fuck of a lot of money to divert a plane, and there's no guarantee that the mother would be eligible/insured for/able to afford - delivery and/or neonatal care in a location other than her intended destination. There are certainly no facilities for delivery of neo-natal resusc on a plane.
Also, sorting out the baby's nationality could be a nightmare.
There are a number of other conditions which they refuse to carry, even when the flight per se is not the risk. The chances of premature labour may be low. But the consequences should it occur could be catastrophic.
"Yes, but isn't that the concern of the woman and her doctor rather than the airlines"
Of course it concerns the airline if you went into labour during a flight. It would affect the staff and passengers as well. I don't understand why you don't get it.
As you knew you would be heavily pregnant why didn't you check the airline's policy before you booked/flew?
BA's policy on travelling whilst pregnant is very clear, after 28 weeks you need a medical certificate from either your gp or midwife that it is safe for you to travel.
as others have said this is probably due to the cost of diverting a flight.
Actually, the requirement for a letter after 28 weeks is WHO advice.
If you queued up for a plane, and they
dared to ask you if you're pregnant, then what can they do if yo look horrified and say "no! How very dare you!" Even if you are clearly 8 months?
Just wondering , as instinctively it feels like some sort of dodgy territory to be asking.
If the airline suspect that a passenger, whether by illness or any other condition, is not fit to fly, they must refer it to the Captain who can refuse boarding. At major airports, there are doctors who will quickly give a professional opinion. If you don't have a letter or something else that attests to your dates, and they suspect you are over the proscribed number of weeks, they can refuse boarding.
Are airlines exempted in the equality act 2010 then? <genuinely curious>
Answered my own question, thank you google!
"The regulations include an exemption where a service provider reasonably thinks that providing goods, facilities or services at all or without certain conditions would, because of the pregnancy, create a risk to a woman's health or safety and it has an equivalent policy relating to people with other physical conditions.
The exemption reflects concerns raised by the aviation industry that airlines' policy of not carrying late-term pregnant women on flights for health and safety reasons would be in breach of the Act. The exclusion might also apply to dangerous activities such as bungee jumping or rock climbing."
There do seem to be plenty of cases of women flying after concealing pregnancy, and at least 2 of babies being born in plane loos and abandoned
This isn't an issue covered by the Equalities Act (and it touches more than England-Wales). You cannot refuse services to soomeone solely because they are female (and they aren't doing), but you can refuse boarding to an aircraft in certain health-related circumstances, according to the UN:
"Airlines have the right to refuse to carry passengers with conditions that may worsen, or have serious consequences, during the flight. They may require medical clearance from their medical department/adviser if there is an indication that a passenger could be suffering from any disease or physical or mental condition that:
- may be considered a potential hazard to the safety of the aircraft;
- adversely affects the welfare and comfort of the other passengers and/or crew members;
- requires medical attention and/or special equipment during the flight;
- may be aggravated by the flight."
BA policy is clearly stated and I did check before travelling but missed the distinction between doctors note and my notes. Don't have an argument with their policy, per se, though do feel strongly that the poplicy must be consistently applied - if a woman is mistakenly allowed to fly outbound, she should be allowed to fly inbound rather than being stranded.
I was more interested in the legal point - if it's operationally possible for some airlines not to require a special trip to the doctor, why are others able to require this. I think CMOT's comment comes closest to answering the question - perhaps BA are applying metrics devised for international travel to domestic flights. Wouldn't explain FlyBe's position, but could be the rationale behind some of the more restrictive policies which would also need to cover variation in standard antenatal care internationally.
Interested that WHO and RCOG advice varies by two months - presumably this might also be down to international differences in antenatal care, where women may be less likely to know if they are in a high-risk group. Thanks for the pointer to this AuntieStella.
I don't think there is a contradiction between RCOG and WHO advice - both say no flying after 36 weeks. The requirement to have a letter showing your dates and that there are no known complications from a time when likely to be clearly showing doesn't conflict.
If you make a complaint, then what they will find is that the airline made an error in permitting you to board without their normally required documentation at 33 weeks and they will order a tightening of checks.
I'm really surprised that Easyjet let you fly OP - they asked for a doctor's letter when I flew with them at 30 weeks.
I'm also quite surprised that you can't see why this is an issue! A woman going into labour on a plane is really quite serious for all involved.
Your flying in an unequipped plane sometimes over vast areas of "nothing" where should something happen two people are at risk not just one.
The potential cost of diverting a flight, medical treatment and of getting the passengers to their destination , re fuelling costs and even costs of providing accommodation so if they can't continue they have to sort somewhere out to sleep , are extremely high. Im sure faffing about with paperwork and red tape is frustrating but I don't thing pregnancy is the time to be trying to prove a point.
It's not discriminatory. They would have the same rule for pregnant men if that we're possible.
I'll be flying to visit family this summer. I won't actually need a letter yet but I'm going to take one just in case as I have a feeling I might be massive by then. I'd rather just pay for the letter than risk ruining our summer holiday. We are flying long haul so it's a lot of money to lose as well.
There was a story a while back about a film director (Kevin Smith?) who wasn't allowed to fly as he is too fat. Airlines are so strict these days about everything. It is better to check and double check everything before traveling.
I also believe that the policy is in place internationally that border controls may refuse entry if they believe the passenger is intending to give birth in that country for citizenship reasons. I've seen instances of airlines beingcharged for carrying passengers that are refused entry, and I'm not sure who pays for the return ticket if they are refused entry. The policy may therefore also be for financial implications, at least internationally.
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