Hidden under the glamour, instagrammable travel photos and uniforms, there is a darker side to becoming a flight attendant. Flying isn’t always that great for your health. This is obviously a key issue when becoming pregnant, with pregnant flight attendants exposed to significantly more flying than the public.
Constant disruption to circadian rhythms plays havoc with hormones — many cabin crew reporting irregular or non-existent periods after beginning flying —, and menstrual cycle disorders in airline stewardesses is a well-studied phenomenon. Flying while pregnant can also be a bit of a challenge, and is prohibited past 36 weeks.
In this blog post, we will first look at the rules for travelling whilst pregnant. Then, we will take a look at if it is possible to be a flight attendant while pregnant, and how long you can continue to work for. We will also discuss some safety concerns associated with flying while pregnant.
Flying while pregnant
There are a few things to consider when flying while pregnant. The first is your stage of pregnancy.
Flying during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy may be considered risky, as miscarriage is more common during this early stage. Additionally, at this stage pregnant travellers may be suffering from pregnancy induced nausea and fatigue which could make travelling uncomfortable.Fit for travel guide — NHS
In addition, doctors will also make recommendations on the suitability to fly, depending on any complications with your pregnancy.
Rules vary depending on the airline, but the majority of airlines will require a doctor’s note confirming three things before accepting pregnant women for flight:
I need to fly after 36 weeks, is this possible?
Airlines normally strictly prohibit flying after 36 weeks pregnant. However, in certain circumstances — such as for or compassionate reasons or urgent medical treatment — under guidance from specialist aviation doctors, travel may occasionally be permitted.
Quick review: flying as an expectant mother
What are the safety concerns?
There are some safety concerns associated with flying while pregnant. The first is the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is a condition that can occur when you sit in one place for too long, and hence increases with flying — especially during longer flights. Pregnancy can increase your susceptibility for DVT.
There are a few things you can do to help minimise this risk.
Did you know, the northern lights are cosmic radiation — and it is one of the few times we can actually see the cosmic rays that continually bombard our planet.
We are naturally exposed to a small amount of ionising radiation every day. The main source in the UK is radon gas from the ground.Cancer Research UK
Another safety concern is the risk of radiation exposure. When you fly, you are exposed to a small amount of ionising radiation.
This is not generally enough to cause any harm to you or your baby — risks of ionising radiation are considered negligible in comparison to other sources. For example, in the UK, the highest source of radiation is radon gas in the ground.
However, the uncertainty surrounding this repeated additional exposure for pregnant flight attendants, is one reason why they are prohibited from flying duties by many employers.
Circadian rhythm disruption
Another safety concern associated with flying while pregnant is the disruption of your circadian rhythm. This is the internal clock that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. When you fly, you can cross multiple time zones in a short period of time. This can disrupt your circadian rhythm and cause you to feel jet-lagged.
Jet lag is a well-known phenomenon, causing short-term sleep difficulties and potentially fatigue. During pregnancy, obtaining sufficient rest is crucial. Jet lag is not something to be worried about for most travellers, taking occasional flights during pregnancy.
However, the potential fatigue arising from continued disruption to normal sleeping patterns — experienced by cabin crew — is another reason why flight attendants who are pregnant are often removed from flying.
General medical access
One final safety concern to consider is the general medical access available.
- For a high-risk pregnancy, it is important to make sure that there will be adequate medical care available in case of an emergency.
- Cabin crew have advanced first aid training, and basic medical kits are onboard for minor injuries
- On virtually all flights, there is a high chance there will be a medical professional onboard. If there is, there is an additional advanced medical kit that can be used by trained professionals.
- Despite this, specialist medical equipment onboard aircraft is obviously limited, and for some long-haul flight routes, it could be hours before a diversion can be made to a suitable airport with specialist medical access.
Other things to consider for travelling whilst pregnant
There’s no evidence of risk from having vaccinations that contain inactivated virus while pregnant. However, receiving live vaccines — like measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and yellow fever — are usually avoided during pregnancy.
Their use while pregnant can be deemed appropriate if travel is unavoidable and the risk of the disease is high. However, it’s always worth checking with a trained medical professional beforehand.
If you need advice on specific medication you may require when travelling — such as anti nausea tablets, or malaria pills — contact your doctor or midwife beforehand. Some anti-malarial tablets are not safe to be taken during pregnancy.
One thing to consider when travelling while pregnant is your ability to access healthcare, and the potential costs involved — especially if you require a prolonged stay. Keep up to date with the normal travel best practises, like carrying your European Medical Health Insurance card (EHIC), and getting good quality travel insurance.
Equally, if you have a high-risk pregnancy, it is important to make sure that there will be adequate specialist medical care facilities available in case of an emergency. Medical facilities are usually sufficient near major international airports. However, for some island destinations, with onward connections involving flying on small aircraft, or when visiting more remote locations, specialist medical care may not be readily available.
What happens to pregnant flight attendants?
For flight attendants that fall pregnant, what happens? In most airlines, it is your duty to inform HR, or your direct manager, at the first known point when becoming pregnant. Airlines will then remove pregnant flight attendants from flying duties. This is known as, being grounded.
Depending on individual company policies, some pregnant cabin crew will be giving ground-based roles before maternity leave — such as working in scheduling, training, or administrative roles.
If it’s safe to fly while pregnant, why is it not safe for pregnant flight attendants?
Flying while pregnant is largely about balancing risk. Employers have a duty of care towards their staff, and many countries legislate that a higher duty of care must be given to certain individuals, such as expectant mothers.
While flying when pregnant is largely safe, the cumulative risk from multiple issues, such as fatigue and jet lag, cosmic radiation, and access to healthcare, means that for pregnant flight attendants this risk is deemed too high.
As an example, in the UK a public health directive requires aviation employers to ensure that the cosmic radiation dose to an unborn child is as low as reasonably achievable.
While the dose of radiation from flying is acceptable for pregnant travellers, repeated exposure due to the nature of work as a flight attendant doesn’t comply with this legislation. As a result, all flying staff at UK-based airlines such as British Airways will be grounded on declaration of pregnancy, and there are similar options for USA based flight attendants.
While it is generally safe to fly while pregnant, for flight attendants it is often prohibited. Therefore, it is important to be aware that you may have to stop flying at some point in your career, when becoming pregnant.
However, this is not the end of a career as a flight attendant. There are many other roles you can fill on the ground, such as working in the airport lounge or assisting with passenger check-in throughout the early stages of pregnancy. Equally, after maternity leave, many flight attendants return to work, continuing their careers successfully.
So if you love being a flight attendant but are worried about what will happen when you have a baby, don’t worry. There are still plenty of opportunities for you to continue working on the ground throughout your pregnancy, and it is normal to resume your career in the air, even after you become a parent.