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 statement said the airline 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 US 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."
Saipan is part of the U.S. commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. It has emerged as a favorite destination for "birth tourism" -- the practice of foreign nationals giving birth on US soil to ensure their babies become American citizens.
This is largely due to its distinct immigration policy from the U.S. 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.
Amanda St. Amand • 314-340-8201
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