I don’t know about you, but I have baby fever, and so do many of my friends who work in the airline industry. It doesn’t help that we often meet the cutest babies during our flights.
But what does that mean for our careers as flight attendants? Can we keep flying when we decide to start a family, or receive news that we’re expecting? What benefits do our airlines grant us for parental leave, and how does flying impact us physically while pregnant?
These are all very valid questions to ask, and luckily you don’t have to look any further to find the answers!
In general, flight attendants can continue to work for a little while after they learn they are pregnant. But policies differ from airline to airline, so it is always a good idea to research what your specific airline has to say on the matter.
- Flight attendants can typically work until 36 weeks into pregnancy, but airlines’ policies vary, some requiring early reassignment to ground-based roles.
- The duration a pregnant flight attendant continues to work depends on personal comfort and physical challenges related to the job.
- Accommodations for pregnant flight attendants can include additional assistance, shorter shifts, and alternative roles.
- Health considerations for pregnant flight attendants include risks of blood clots, dehydration, hypoxia, sleep deprivation, and radiation exposure.
- Paid maternity leave is provided but varies by airline and national regulations, from 6 weeks in the US to 14 weeks in Germany.
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Can Flight Attendants Fly While Pregnant?
Yes! Most flight attendants with “normal” pregnancies are allowed to continue flying through the early stages. Airlines will generally restrict flying after 36 weeks of pregnancy.
That said, the policies and regulations differ from airline to airline and country to country, so let’s explore some of the various policies.
Most national aviation regulatory administrations (like the FAA) do not restrict flight attendants from continuing to fly while pregnant during the first two trimesters of pregnancy.
After 28 weeks, however, flight attendants are required to have a health certificate stating that they are in a satisfactory physical state to continue working up until the 36-week hard limit.
Some airlines have stricter policies in place that go beyond the legal regulations. Here are a few examples:
- Qatar airlines requires flight attendants to immediately notify the airline that they are pregnant so they can be assigned a temporary ground-based role.
- Emirates airlines also requires flight attendants to notify the airline as soon as they find out they are pregnant and are also offered either a temporary ground-based role or paid maternity leave.
- Singapore airlines recently started allowing flight attendants to apply for a pregnancy-reassignment, but this must be done in advance.
- US Based airlines will allow/require you to work up to 36 weeks before going on maternity leave, but if you do not feel up to the task, you can apply for FMLA to get 12 additional weeks of sick leave.
If your airline isn’t listed here, we do recommend making sure you check your policy handbook to find out what policies are in place regarding pregnancy and parentally leave.
Will Airlines Fire Pregnant Flight Attendants?
While airlines these days do not technically “fire” flight attendants who fall pregnant, many have policies that restrict flight attendants from becoming pregnant before they meet specific seniority benchmarks.
From the perspective of a US-based flight attendant, like me, this sounds like something from a bygone era.
Emirates airlines, for example, requires flight attendants to wait three years before becoming pregnant. If anyone falls pregnant before that benchmark they are required to resign.
The argument for this policy is that it is too expensive to train and keep someone so junior on the pay role, so you have to earn the right to maternity leave by committing to the company for at least three years.
In the US, UK, Canada, and EU, flight attendants cannot be fired for becoming pregnant ever, the same is not necessarily true of airlines based in Asia or the Middle East.
Not-So-Fun-Fact: Singapore airlines was the last airline update its policies regarding pregnant stewardesses. Until 2022 the airline categorically fired any and all flight attendant who fell pregnant, irrespective of their seniority.
While I was doing research for this article, I kept coming across stories about how strict Emirates’ maternity policies can be and I wanted to bring up two more points that haven’t come up yet in this article.
The first is, post maternity weight restrictions, according to several articles, new moms are weighed before they are allowed to return to work at Emirates. If they didn’t meet the requirements, they are grounded without pay until they can lose their baby weight.
The second is, the role of marital status, because Emirates flight attendants are based in Dubai, they are required to follow religious laws that forbid pre-marital sex. That means a pregnancy out of wedlock is a crime. In 2010, an unmarried flight attendant gave birth on a layover and was unable to return to Dubai without being arrested. The airline placed her on an unpaid leave and left her stranded in South Africa.
These two points seemed too important to leave out of this article. Do with this information what you will if you are working for Emirates or thinking about applying to work for Emirates.
Flying While Pregnant
For those of us who may continue flying while pregnant and chose to do so, there are a few other things that you may be wondering about.
How long can/should you keep flying?
What accommodations are made?
Is it even safe to continue working while pregnant?
We’ll explore the answers to those questions here.
How Long Can a Flight Attendant Keep Working While Pregnant?
If you work for an airline that will allow you to keep flying up to 36 weeks, how long should you keep working?
In most cases, the answer will rely on how you feel as your pregnancy progresses.
Some flight attendants will need more sick leave during the first trimester when the symptoms can be quite strong. Others will find the physical limitations of the second trimester too cumbersome to continue flying. While others will work straight through with little physical complications.
The best advice I can give is to consult your doctor for the best medical advice and do what is best for you and your child.
What Kinds of Accommodations are Made for Pregnant Flight Attendants?
In the US, UK, Canada, and EU pregnant people are granted work-place protections and accommodations suited to their condition.
For the airline industry these accommodations include, but are not limited to:
- Extra assistance from colleagues to complete physically demanding tasks.
- Additional sick leave.
- Shorter shifts (fewer trips).
- Temporary placements in ground-based roles (depending on airline policy).
- Paid and/or unpaid leave.
When Should the Airline Be Notified?
Some airlines will explicitly state when they need to be notified of a new pregnancy, others will leave it up to your discretion.
In the US, for example, you technically aren’t legally required to tell your employer that you are pregnant until the 25th week of pregnancy.
But if you are experiencing strong symptoms you might need to disclose the information a bit earlier so you can apply for the proper leave protections.
Is it Safe to Fly While Pregnant as a Flight Attendant and What are the Safety Concerns?
The general consensus these days is that it is safe to continue flying while pregnant.
The 36-week restriction is mostly in place, so you don’t accidentally go into labor mid-flight.
That said there are some health and safety-related concerns to keep in mind.
- Increased risk of blood clots: This is also true of people taking contraceptives though. There are natural remedies you can take that are safe for pregnancy that greatly reduce the risk. Fresh ginger, for example, will help reduce the risk (and it might help you manage your morning sickness symptoms too). This risk is greater for passengers than crew, though because crew members are up and walking around, which typically prevents Deep Vein Thrombosis.
- Dehydration: Expecting flight attendants need to pay extra attention to hydration in order to ensure both parent and fetus are getting enough fluid.
- Hypoxia: Pregnant people are more susceptible to hypoxia. If a decompression event occurs while you are pregnant the resulting hypoxia may have potentially detrimental impacts on the fetus.
- Sleep deprivation and fatigue: Pregnant people need a lot of rest, and we all know that the aviation lifestyle is not exactly conducive to getting lots of extra sleep.
- Cosmic radiation: Cosmic radiation has been linked to chromosome aberrations that may lead to developmental disorders. The current recommendation is to prevent fetal exposure from exceeding 1 mSv during gestation. The average annual exposure for flight crews is between 2 & 5 mSv. Since pregnancy lasts 9 months it is possible that fetal exposure will exceed the recommended limit.
The best thing you can do is work with your doctor to make decisions regarding these risks.
Do Flight Attendants Get Paid Maternity Leave?
Yes! Flight attendants do get paid maternity leave. The duration is dependent on the airline policies and national regulations.
In the US, for example, the legal requirement to provide parental leave is limited to the 12-weeks covered by FMLA. Some airlines, however, provide better benefits than others. The average paid parental leave for US-based airlines is 6 weeks. With the option to extend using FMLA, but this then becomes unpaid at some point.
In Germany, on the other hand, airlines are legally required to grant flight attendants fourteen weeks of paid parental leave.
Since I can’t list off every country and airline’s policy here, I really recommend you look into the laws and policies that will apply directly to you.
The airline industry has a long history of punitive policies for pregnant stewardesses.
Luckily, this is changing, and most airlines now retain flight attendants who fall pregnant.
But how pregnancy impacts one’s ability to continue working is dependent on both personal preference and the policies at each individual airline.
I hope this article helped to introduce you to the basic considerations you might need to make as a flight attendant who wants to start a family.