If an incident occurs on board an aircraft in flight which could be considered as criminal in one country, what decides which country the incident falls under? For example, if a man was found to be in possession of "virtual" child pornography and not all of the countries involved consider that to be illegal, which country is the one who decides whether the person have broken the law or not?

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    $\begingroup$ Your example is murkier than you realize since he likely was in possession on takeoff and would be in possession on landing. Instead try to use an example of a crime that he could commit during the flight, in a country's airspace, that doesn't necessarily also occur at both ends of the flight. $\endgroup$
    – Adam Davis
    Apr 9, 2014 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ What if he draws the virtual child porn himself after the plane leaves the 12-mile zone of the departure country, and tears it into tiny pieces and flushes it before arrival? Or loudly announcing state secrets of the departure country? That's usually not illegal at the destination unless it's a departure-country flag carrier. $\endgroup$
    – paul
    Aug 29, 2014 at 14:18

1 Answer 1


In my PPL class I was taught a simplified explanation:

If a baby was born (or a crime committed for that matter) on an aircraft, the official country in which it was born depends on wether the aircraft's doors are open or closed (within reasonable limits, so assuming they can't be open in flight).

If the doors are open, the country will be the country where the aircraft is currently located. If the doors are closed, it will be the country in which the aircraft is registered.

  • $\begingroup$ Not to rain on your analogy, but heavily pregnant women are typically not allowed to fly on planes, for this exact reason :p $\endgroup$ Apr 9, 2014 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ Which makes perfect sense ofcourse :) $\endgroup$
    – Jeroen
    Apr 10, 2014 at 8:18
  • $\begingroup$ This is fascinating -- I'd be interested in seeing a source for this statement. $\endgroup$
    – tgies
    Apr 10, 2014 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ @DannyBeckett airborne births (and deaths) happen regularly enough that it's a standard part of flight crew training, and immigration in most countries have procedures for hours-old arrivals with no documents. Sometimes it's genuinely premature, sometimes it's deliberate - the mother has plans to get citizenship in the destination country and hits labour a couple of weeks early. $\endgroup$
    – paul
    Aug 29, 2014 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ @paul That's interesting; I've yet to hear of an airline without a policy for the maximum weeks pregnant an expectant mother can be, to fly. Fair enough in cases where it's genuinely premature. $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2014 at 15:23

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