According to a New Zealand gender researcher, the practice of airlines banning late-term pregnant women from flying has very little to do with public safety. Associate professor Annick Masselot says that the reality is that airlines have no scientific reason to limit a pregnant woman's freedom to travel by air, and in fact, it's not only an invasion of a woman's privacy to ask personal medical questions before granting access to a plane -- it's a form of gender discrimination. Masselot says airlines that impose pregnancy guidelines are furthering "harmful gender and cultural stereotypes" and may even be breaking the law.
Gosh, what great news for anyone nearing the end of their pregnancy! Don't you want to exercise your God-given right to lumber onto a plane where you'll be hideously uncomfortable and without medical attention for hours at a time? Because nothing says feminism like doing something incredibly stupid.
Okay, fine, I'm not actually saying that you're incredibly stupid if you get on a cross-country flight when you're 39 weeks pregnant. I'm saying that you're a bad decision maker with poor reasoning skills and that's exactly why airlines have regulations that help reduce the chances that you'll give birth on the drink cart.
In her report on fighting pregnancy- and maternity-related discrimination, Masselot says "pregnancy is not a form of illness," and as such, no pregnant woman should have to answer medical questions or adhere to a flying ban:
There should not be any reason to request a medical certificate or refuse women to board a plane based on pregnancy. There is no reason to impose such conditions on pregnant women when passengers who might suffer from, for example, high blood pressure or heart problems are not requested to provide any evidence of their ability to fly. (...) People do not question refusal to fly conditions because of the existence of widespread and deeply ingrained gender stereotypes. These stereotypes are harmful because women who are pregnant have their right to move limited by airlines for no scientific reason. It is arguably a form of control over women in order to limit the potential inconvenience of dealing with a woman going into labor in a plane.
Oh, airlines just want to "limit the potential inconvenience'' of a woman going into labor? Well, DUH. Of course they want to limit the inconvenience of someone giving birth at 30,000 feet, just like they probably want to limit the inconvenience of other unwanted outcomes, such as running out of those shitty little cans of tomato juice every air traveler inexplicably asks for, or crashing the plane directly into a mountain.
And give me a GIANT POLITICALLY CORRECT BREAK on whining about how people with heart problems don't have to suffer the same emotionally damaging discrimination. How someone could take a perfectly reasonable health regulation -- please don't fly with us if your fetus is full term and could easily make a surprise howdy-do -- and turn it into a "harmful gender stereotype" is beyond me.
Every passenger has the potential to experience some sort of in-flight emergency, and no one can create enough rules that eliminate every single theoretical disaster. But common sense dictates that certain conditions require medical advice and/or clearance. Pregnancy isn't an illness, but flight attendants aren't doulas and planes aren't equipped for emergency C-sections. Airlines have the right to refuse carriage for any NUMBER of reasons (item 7.1.8 from Virgin Airlines: "Your mental or physical state represents a likely source of material annoyance or discomfort to other passengers"), and extreme pregnancy is a totally understandable reason for a business to say, "No offense, but we don't want the responsibility."
I have to wonder, of all the gender battles to take on, why pick this one? Honestly, is this REALLY a problem? Or am I just unable to get enraged about the practice of banning late-pregnancy women from flying because I'm the misogynistic product of a patriarchy-dominant society?
What do you think? Should all airline guidelines regarding pregnant women be dropped?
Image via Mike Liu/Flickr