MY CLUB • December 2023
“I’m going to have the baby now…” Meet the unexpected passenger whose mother went into labour in the sky 33 years ago…
One of just three babies born on a British Airways plane, Shona Owen arrived in style on 2 November 1990 somewhere over the English Channel. No hospital bed for her. She made her way into the world via our First cabin on a flight between Accra and London.
Although living in Ghana, Deborah Owen always planned to return to Scotland to have her second child, with Shona’s dad due to follow on later. At 33.5 weeks, Deborah, who was travelling with her four-year-old daughter, Clare, was well within flying regulations at the time. She had little idea she would disembark hours later with two children in tow.
“Ladies and gentlemen, another passenger has boarded the flight”
Deborah remembers that, somewhere over Paris, she lost her resolve to fight labour any longer and the crew looked for a doctor on board. A professional safely acquired, Dr Bakker, who had been helping women give birth in the bush in Ghana, stepped up. The First cabin was cleared of all its passengers and Deborah was made comfortable on one of the beds. “With music playing, the blinds down, my own doctor and crew around me, the actual birth was lovely,” she fondly recalls.
“Ladies and gentlemen, another passenger has boarded the flight,” announced the pilot to a round of applause as the plane descended into Gatwick airport.
Rather than the usual fanfare from loved ones, Shona’s first visitors were the press, who bundled onto the plane to get pictures of the tiny - and completely oblivious – star, who was later named Shona Kirsty Yves. Her initials, SKY (and a birth certificate issued by the Civil Aviation Authority), are a lasting reminder of where she was born.
Shona rowing in Scotland, where she lives
“I don’t tell people my ‘born on a plane’ story often,” says Shona today. “It feels like it’s not mine to tell – as I obviously can’t remember it – or it might come across that I’m attention-seeking.”
Now 33, Shona lives in Glasgow, and her unique start in life hasn’t been trivial in shaping the path she’s followed since. While at university, she undertook a dissertation on the phenomenon of babies born on planes, citing her main reason as being her own embarrassment, since she never had an answer when people inevitably asked her: “So how many people have been born on planes?”
From 1929 to 2023, around 95 babies were born on a plane
“I spent months talking to airlines, doctors, and crew to get an idea of how many there were of us,” she says. “Amazingly there’s never been a database, but my research at least gives us a rough figure to work with. From 1929 to 2023, around 95 babies were born on a plane.” Since university, she’s spoken to many other ‘plane babies’, gathering stories and experiences over email and social media.
While Shona has never encountered a fellow plane baby in person, her mother Deborah has. “My mum met another woman who gave birth to her son on a British Airways flight,” says Shona. “Her story is actually almost identical to my mum’s, in that they were both British citizens travelling back to the UK to have their child. Both had a Dutch doctor who came forward to help with the delivery, and both ended up giving birth mid-flight in 1990!”
In October 2009, BA sent Shona to Australia as a birthday surprise
With a fierce love of travel fostered from the get-go, Shona spent ten years working across marketing for luxury safari experiences before moving over to a job in communications for renewable energy – a shift that she says has made her a much more eco-conscious explorer. She’s not given up on seeing the world entirely, though. There’s a trip to Mauritius on the cards, which will add to her tally of 47 countries visited, with favourite places including Zimbabwe and Japan.
When she does travel, Shona is in possession of a passport that isn’t tethered to a country of birth, but rather one that reads “born at sea” – the official phrase for those born anywhere but on dry land.
Shona with her grandmother
And, despite what most people might imagine, all Shona’s flights aren’t on the house, although we did gift her a trip in First for her 18th birthday. With limited time on her hands, she flew to Australia for a weekend to surprise her grandma who lived there. “I have travelled extensively, but that flight in First was the most extravagant experience of my life,” she says, recalling a journey celebrated with vintage Bollinger.
For all her earlier protestations, Shona has gradually come round to sharing her tale with others: “As I get older, I have learned how much people enjoy hearing about my start in life. It has certainly taught me how to tell a good story!”