What Nationality Is Given To A Baby Born On A Plane?


Have you ever wondered what nationality is given to a baby born on a plane? If a baby is born on Delta Airlines to a Nigerian mother and a French father over Senegalese airspace, and an emergency landing is made in Mauritania, what will her citizenship be?

This is a pretty fascinating issue to research. Most people are born on land, in an area that is clearly spelled out within the borders of a country. But what happens to the few people who are born on an international flight or ship? Let's dig in!

In the story, there are 4 factors that come to play: the nationality(ies) of the parents (French & Nigerian), the airspace they are flying over (Senegalese), the country where the plane is registered (USA) and the first point of landing after the child is born (Mauritanian).

1st Factor - Blood Right!

As soon as the child is born, she is automatically a French and a Nigerian citizen. Most countries (if not all) will grant citizenship to a child if at least one parent is a citizen of that country. This is known as jus sanguinis (right of blood).

Note that in some countries, the child does not automatically inherit the citizenship of her mother, if it is different from the citizenship of her father. In such countries, the mother's nationality is only given automatically if the father is unknown or is stateless.

2nd Factor - Birth Right!

At the time of the child's birth, the airspace over which they were flying could come into play, but only if the country offers automatic citizenship to those who were born in its territories (jus soli - the right of the soil).

Sometimes, jus soli is unconditional. Other times, it is conditional on residence requirements. So, it means that a child born over the airspace or within the territorial waters of a country with unconditional jus soli can be granted citizenship of that country.

Unfortunately, in our story, Senegal does not offer unrestricted jus soli which means that the child does not automatically qualify for Senegalese citizenship by being born within the country's airspace.

Fun Fact:
The USA and Canada are the only two countries in the so-called "developed world" that still offer citizenship to anyone who was born there, whether your parents are legal aliens, citizens, illegal immigrants or residents.

3rd Factor - Citizenship of the Plane!

Since the child was born on a Delta plane, the aircraft is likely registered in the USA. This technically means that the child was born in US territory - as the laws of the US apply on its planes. But there's a catch...

However, it is rare for countries to extend citizenship to a child simply because she was born on a plane registered in that country. The exception: if the child is born to stateless parents and does not have the option of taking the citizenship(s) of her parent(s).

4th Factor - First Point of Landing!

When a child is born on a plane, there is often an emergency landing because newborn babies are really not supposed to be flying. So, in our story, the plane had to land in Mauritania. Can the child get Mauritanian citizenship? Hmm...

This one is the rarest of them all but it is not impossible for a country to grant a baby citizenship if the first place she landed after birth was in that country. It will be granted on a case by case basis.

Plural Citizenship - It is important to note which countries allow dual or plural citizenship and which do not. Believe it or not, there are some countries that forbid dual citizenship so even if a child was technical, they will have to choose one and forfeit the other.

So, our sweet baby will be Nigerian & French. Live your best life, girl! The world belongs to you. I hope you grow up to become a geographer in thought and then shine light through whatever profession you choose.

Experts in international law, over to you.

Funmi Oyatogun


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