Sunday, August 18, 2013

Advice for flying at 34 weeks pregnant (3rd trimester)

Here are a few tidbits of knowledge distilled from my experience trying to fly from Seattle to Dubai (home) at 34 weeks pregnant. This advice skews toward international flights, and I'm not talking about drinking lots of water on the plane and walking up the aisles to stretch your legs. I'm talking about getting on the plane, period.

1. My first piece of advice for flying at 34 weeks pregnant? Don't. It's really, really uncomfortable and it could be quite risky, depending on the length of the flight and your pregnancy health record.

That said, I'm sure most women out there who are considering flying at 34 weeks are not doing so for the sheer fun of it. So I'll continue.

2. Check the airline's policy. Then check it again. Most airlines seem to allow travel up to 36 weeks with an uncomplicated singleton pregnancy, but you should confirm that before purchasing your tickets.

3. Print out the airline's policy and carry it with you to the airport. I did this, and I still ended up having to take an airline employee back to her own computer and show her the policy on the airline's website. In other words, don't assume that all of the airline's employees are intricately familiar with their own policies for pregnant travelers.

4. Also? Don't assume that any of the airline employees are even remotely familiar with some of the basic facts of pregnancy. Such as:
- what exactly "34 weeks pregnant" means. It's out of 40 weeks and is a more exact way of stating things than using the traditional "# months pregnant" form.
- how some women carry bigger than others. If you carry big, as I do, then employees may assume that you are just about ready to go into labor, while a smaller belly may fly completely under the radar. This is not fair, but it's true.
- the normal progression of labor. If people have only ever seen TV-like representations of childbirth, then they will believe it is possible to have no indication of labor, and then have a baby 45 minutes later. OK, this probably IS possible for some people, but it is very, very unlikely for the vast majority.

5. If you want to be declared fit to fly, you should do your best to look the part. This one is tricky. Of course, only the doctor's note (see below) should matter. The truth is that due to #4 (above), you will be judged on a lot more than a medical professional's opinion of your condition. My advice is to present yourself as having more energy, enthusiasm, and put-together-ness than you actually possess. Sorry, no sweatpants and messy ponytails on this flight, even if that is what you feel like inside (don't we all?).

6. Be sure to obtain a doctor's note, even if it is not required. This may be much, much harder than you think, at least if you are a visitor to the US. Have the doctor use the airline's form as well as his/her own letterhead, and bring both to the airport. Make sure everything is legible and clear and check it over for mistakes (in due date or issue date, for example) before you show up at the airport.

7. Finally, consider the possibility that you will not be allowed on the flight, even if you have followed the airline's policy to the letter. This was an outcome that I did not give nearly enough consideration to, until it was staring me in the face. The truth is, a captain can reject someone from a flight for any reason - a shirt with a weird slogan, pants that ride too low, crying kids, breastfeeding without covering up, etc. I thought that since I had the airline's policy on my side, I had a right to get on the plane. I learned the hard way that this is not the case. If I had known how close I would come to being stranded in the US for the duration of my pregnancy, I probably would not have risked trying to fly at 34 weeks.

Good luck, my hugely pregnant fellow passengers!


Suzanne Bubnash said...

You did #5 so well. You looked like a million bucks, even if you didn't feel it.

Crys said...

Suzanne did you take a picture. She has not shared a single one! People in far away states are dying to see!

Bridget said...

Oh, I guess I could post a picture sometime. I'll have to dig one up. :)

Craig said...

Well, I'm so glad you flew at 34 weeks, because it meant you came to visit the USA and us.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

I don't think we took any photos at the airport, darn. We were so much on eggshells because of the fit-to-fly thing. And I was discreetly eavesdropping on "Angie" to hear what she was saying to other employees and on the phone. Didn't even think of taking a photo.

Liz Johnson said...

Dude, I'm so impressed that you did it, and convinced them to let you on that plane. I am so glad that you made it back!

Suzanne Bubnash said...

I flew at 34 weeks pregnant from Amsterdam to Los Angeles with a stop in Bangor Maine. It was my first baby so I wasn't required to wrestle other children. And we had the helpful break in Maine. It was extremely stressful for another reason though. We had lost our passport in Amsterdam and were told at Schipol that we might be sent back to Europe when we attempted to enter the US. We sweated the entire way; the whole plane knew about it and worried with us. Thank heaven they let us in.


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