What nationality for a baby born in the air?

In mid-air, over oceans or borders, a new life is sometimes born. A rare event, but one that raises a surprising question: What nationality does a baby born on an international flight have?

An exceptional birth, an exceptional situation

Imagine giving birth at an altitude of 10,000 meters. It seems unlikely, but such events do happen, despite frequent medical advice not to travel by air from 36 weeks of pregnancy. What’s more, it adds a definite level of stress for the mother who, instead of a fully equipped hospital, finds herself in a confined space far from any specialist medical help.

In addition to the medical challenge, there is another major problem: what is the nationality of the newborn child? This may involve a flight over international waters or the territories of one country or another. This is a specific legal issue, and each country has its own rules.

Ius Soli and Ius Sanguinis: laws to determine nationality

There is no “universal rule” for determining a child’s nationality. Some countries follow the law of “ius sanguinis” (right of blood), meaning that the child inherits the nationality of its parents. Others adopt the principle of “ius soli” (right of soil), granting nationality according to the child’s place of birth, regardless of the parents’ origin.

In most countries, including France, the law of ius soli prevails. Thus, if a child is born in the airspace of a country that respects this law, he or she will obtain the nationality of that country. He or she could also claim dual nationality if his or her parents are from another country that grants citizenship under the ius sanguinis.

The exception: birth on the high seas or in international airspace

However, if the birth takes place in flight, but the parents are traveling for reasons such as tourism, ius sanguinis applies. As a general rule, a child born in an airspace other than that of the parents’ country eventually acquires the nationality of the parents. The same rule applies if the baby is born on the high seas.

A unique case where a child can be considered stateless is when he or she is born in international airspace and neither the father nor the mother has citizenship. According to the United Nations Convention to Reduce Statelessness, the child will acquire the nationality of the country in which the aircraft is registered.