Airline Forces Woman To Take Pregnancy Test Before Flying To U.S. Territory

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

A Hong Kong-based airline has apologized after it demanded a passenger take a test to prove she was not pregnant before boarding a flight to the U.S. Pacific island of Saipan.

Low-cost carrier Hong Kong Express came under criticism after a 25-year-old Japanese woman said airline staff required her to take a "fit-to-fly" assessment, which included a pregnancy test, when she was checking in for a flight at Hong Kong International Airport. 

"It was very humiliating and frustrating," she told the Wall Street Journal, adding that the airline indicated the test was required for women "observed to have a body size or shape resembling a pregnant woman."

The report said airline staff then escorted her to a washroom and handed her a pregnancy test, barring her from boarding until the test came back negative.

"We would like to apologize for the distress caused," the airline, which was acquired by Cathay Pacific in July last year, said in a statement to CNN. The airline said it was under pressure from authorities in Saipan to step up checks on passengers. 

"We took actions on flights to Saipan from February 2019 to help ensure U.S. immigration laws were not being undermined," it said. "Under our new management, we recognize the significant concerns this practice has caused. We have immediately suspended the practice while we review it."

Despite the criticism, the issue is real. Saipan, part of the U.S. commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, has emerged as a favourite destination for "birth tourism" -- the practice of foreign nationals giving birth on U.S. soil to ensure their babies become American citizens. 

This is largely due to Saipan’s distinct immigration policy from the US mainland, which allows citizens from some countries, such as China, to visit without a visa, even though they would need one for other parts of America.

In recent years, birth tourism has become so rampant in the commonwealth that more babies are born to tourists than its permanent residents.

In 2018, tourists gave birth to 582 babies on the islands, while only 492 were born to permanent residents. Chinese tourists accounted for most of the births -- of the 582 that year, 575 involved Chinese citizens.

The Northern Mariana Islands has a population of just over 50,000.

The popularity of birth tourism in Saipan has prompted authorities to take action, such as putting pressures on airlines to screen passengers.

Bruce Parkinson

Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief

An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.

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