So I just found out about a Canadian woman who gave birth on an Air Canada flight on her way to Tokyo on mothers day. In this article: Ada Guan, B.C. woman who gave birth on plane, didn't know she was pregnant, it states,

...depending on where Chloe [the infant] was born along the route, she could be eligible for American citizenship if she was born above Hawaii in addition to Canadian citizenship

Is that really a thing? Does the USA grant citizenship to whomever is born in their airspace? The child has been given Canadian citizenship because the flight originated in Canada, but she was technically born at 35,000 ft somewhere over the pacific ocean (What's her birth certificate going to say? Place of Brith: 27.362444, -161.294046 at 35,000', or "International Waters"?) Would a child be eligible for a US passport if born in the stratosphere somewhere over Hawaii?

From discussion in Comments:

Either that flight took one heck of a detour, the reporter didn't get their facts straight, or Hawaii is in the Bering Sea.

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  • 7
    The article is quoting an immigration lawyer. What evidence are you hoping to find in an answer?
    – ChrisW
    May 13, 2015 at 16:14
  • 2
    FWIW, a direct flight from Calgary Alberta, to Tokyo, Japan would come much closer to Alaska than to Hawaii...
    – DJohnM
    May 13, 2015 at 21:22
  • 6
    @User58220 That's what I thought, but the reporter says Hawaii. My guess is the lawyer said USA, and a reporter without any concept of flight-paths, and who is only familiar with Mercator maps, interpreted that to mean Hawaii.
    – ShemSeger
    May 13, 2015 at 21:31
  • 2
    As a Hawaii resident, I am deeply concerned. May 14, 2015 at 0:17
  • 4
    "given Canadian citizenship because the flight originated in Canada" umm no, that is because the parents have Canadian citizenship. From here "The connection to Canada would be either over Canadian soil, Canadian parent or registered Canadian aircraft"
    – Habib
    May 14, 2015 at 16:07

2 Answers 2


Page 7 of this Foreign Affairs Manual, titled ACQUISITION OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP BY BIRTH IN THE UNITED STATES, says,

“The rules applicable to vessels obviously apply equally to airplanes. Thus a child born on a plane in the United States or flying over its territory would acquire United States citizenship at birth.”

  • 3
    It seems really weird that a pregnant woman who gives birth while flying non-stop from Mexico to Canada could get US citizenship for her child.
    – Bobson
    May 13, 2015 at 19:34
  • 8
    Just imagine what would happen if that child tried to become President one day...
    – Bobson
    May 13, 2015 at 20:44
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    Or more likely, failed to file US income tax returns on world-wide income for a number of years...
    – DJohnM
    May 13, 2015 at 21:03
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    @Bobson Note that women late in pregnancy usually aren't allowed to fly. May 13, 2015 at 22:21
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    @Bobson True, the article says that women aren't allowed to fly if over 36 weeks pregnant. The article also says the baby wasn't premature, so it is a kind of bizarre story that the woman hadn't noticed she was pregnant in all those months...?! May 14, 2015 at 11:00

Yes, a child born within 12 nautical miles of the US (which applies to airspace as well) is in US territory. Under jus soli, a child born in US territory can be granted a US citizenship.

Twelve Nautical Mile Limit: The territorial sea of the United States was formerly three nautical miles. (See, e.g., Cunard S.S. Co. v Mellon, 262 U.S. 100, 122, 43 S. Ct. 504, 67 L. Ed. 894 (1923).) However, the three-mile rule was changed by a Presidential Proclamation in 1988, implementing the territorial-sea provision of the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. (Presidential Proclamation 5928, signed December 27, 1988, published at 54 Federal Register 777, January 9, 1989.) As decreed by that Proclamation, the territorial sea of the United States henceforth extends to 12 nautical miles from the baselines of the United States determined in accordance with international law. (The Proclamation also stated that the jurisdiction of the United States extends to the airspace over the territorial sea.) (See Gordon, Immigration Law and Procedure, Part 8 Nationality and Citizenship, 92.03(2)(b) territorial limits.)


  • Your quotation doesn't seem to back up your assertion.
    – March Ho
    May 13, 2015 at 17:34
  • 5
    @MarchHo The quotation fully backs up the claims in the first sentence; the second sentence doesn't seem to be in dispute. May 13, 2015 at 18:28
  • 1
    "Under jus soli, a child born in US territory can be granted a US citizenship." Actually a child born "in the United States" has U.S. citizenship at birth from. "United States" as used in the Constitution only includes incorporated territories (all currently inhabited U.S. territories are unincorporated); and "United States" as defined in the Immigration and Naturalization Act covers some but not all U.S. territories.
    – user102008
    May 13, 2015 at 18:38

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