Most airlines flying to the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport allow pregnant women of up to 32 weeks to board their aircraft without being required to provide a medical certificate.
Sen. Teresita Santos (R-Rota), however, wants the airlines to be stricter in enforcing this policy and is concerned at how loose the policies are.
Santos, who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, believes that this is one of the reasons why tourist births in the CNMI are so high.
“Airlines shall strictly enforce the ‘flying restrictions during pregnancy policy.’ Any airline caught in violation of such policy shall be penalized at the maximum including revocation of its license to fly and/or incarceration if the infant is born with physical or mental defects due to airline screening radiation exposure, cabin pressure altitude or other health risks associated when travelling during pregnancy,” she said.
Jin Air, Philippine Airlines, Eastar Jet, and Jeju Air are among the airlines that provide some form of declaration of indemnity. A declaration of indemnity is a letter of acceptance of risks involved with traveling via aircraft so that if anything happens to the baby during the flight, it is not the fault of the airline.
Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan) also wants airlines to be stricter when it comes to pregnant travelers for the safety of the child.
“We’re urging the airlines that they have to be vigilant, they have to screen their passengers carefully, because there are certain times in the pregnancy process where you are not eligible to fly,” said Demapan, who chairs the House Federal and Foreign Affairs Committee.
“There is a lot of effort being done in the CNMI by both U.S. Customs and Border Protection and local enforcement but the very important part is to get the airlines to have more stringent enforcement at the source country before they depart,” added Demapan.
In one notable incident, a woman was refused entry to Saipan because of her being pregnant; her husband was allowed to enter, however. She later sued CBP but the case was ultimately dropped.
Demapan reiterated that amendment of the law may prove to be tricky and that the real challenge lies in preventing birth tourism without discriminating against pregnant travelers.
“The big question is how do we make a decision that is aimed at curbing this circumvention of the law, but also ensure that that decision is not discriminating,” said Demapan.
“The policy may backfire. There are human rights advocates and there are human rights that need to be followed,” he added.
Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Chris Concepcion recognized the issue but also pointed out that airline activities are legal.
“We are aware of the concerns being raised by members of the public and industry partners on the rise in visitor births in the CNMI. Our representative offices in Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Russia, and the Philippines are communicating with our partners on the ground to ensure all CNMI and U.S. laws are being followed,” he said.
“Airlines, industry stakeholders, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have a responsibility to ensure that all guests arriving into the CNMI are properly vetted and screened. It becomes a gray area when we start dealing with pregnant women since we’re not medical experts able to tell what trimester a pregnant woman is in. And as far as I can recall from my experience in the airline industry, most U.S. carriers have no restrictions on pregnant passengers as long as their doctors give them the green light [a medical clearance] to travel,” he added.
“Doctors and other medical professionals are best able to determine a woman’s ability to fly on an aircraft, not the airline agent at the check-in counter or Customs and Border Patrol officers,” said Concepcion.
Asiana Airlines has a policy that allows pregnant travelers of up to 36 weeks to travel without providing medical clearance.
Jin Air has a policy that allows women of up to 32 weeks pregnant to travel, as long as they sign a declaration of indemnity releasing Jin Air from responsibility should anything happen to the unborn baby. For travelers pregnant by more than 32 weeks but less than 36 weeks, travel is only allowed if a medical certificate provided by a doctor can be presented. Travel is prohibited for pregnancies 37 weeks and beyond.
Delta Air Lines, according to their website, says, “Delta does not impose restrictions on flying for pregnant women, so a medical certificate is not required to travel. Keep in mind, however, that ticket change fees and penalties cannot be waived for pregnancy. If you’re traveling after your eighth month, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor to be sure travel is not restricted.”
PAL Express requires that pregnant passengers fill up a form called an Expectant Mothers Information Sheet, or EMIS, before being allowed to board. For pregnant travelers beyond 32 weeks, the traveler must provide a medical clearance proving that the traveler is healthy for flight. Traveling is prohibited for pregnancies beyond 37 weeks.
Eastar Jet allows pregnant travelers less than 32 weeks into the pregnancy to fly as they wish. For pregnancies above 32 weeks, a declaration of indemnity must be filled up along with a medical clearance from a doctor that was issued within a week of travel. Traveling is prohibited for pregnancies beyond 38 weeks.
Jeju Air, for its part, requires pregnant travelers to provide a medical clearance from a doctor with a doctor’s note permitting the traveler to fly and must also fill up a declaration of indemnity. Travel is prohibited for pregnancies beyond 36 weeks.
China Eastern Airlines state on their website, “We will accept passengers with pregnancies up to 36 weeks. A medical certificate is required at check-in. It is to be completed by both the passenger and her doctor within 72 hours prior to departure and submitted. Pregnant passengers should make certain that the facilities at the destination country are adequate to cope with any problems with the pregnancy that may occur during the visit.”
According to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. Health & Vital Statistics Office, foreign live births comprised a third of total births from January 2014 up to October 2016.
Out of a total of 3,141 live births of residents, temporary residents, and tourists, 1,076 are of foreign parents.