Cristina Penton’s flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Dallas had barely taken off Saturday when she began feeling a strange sensation.
No way, thought Penton, who was 36 weeks pregnant. Was that a contraction?
Nearby on the Spirit Airlines flight were her two older children, both of whom she had carried to full term without any complications. Surely she couldn’t be going into labor now.
And yet, Penton continued feeling contractions, first every five minutes, then every four.
“Within 10, 15 minutes of take-off, I felt like something was not fine,” Penton said at a news conference Tuesday morning recorded by the New Orleans Advocate.
There was nothing she could do but notify a flight attendant, who contacted doctors on the ground — and asked passengers whether there were any medical personnel on board. As it happened, a pediatrician and a nurse came forward; the last time the pediatrician had delivered a baby, Penton said he told her, was about 10 years ago in medical school.
“Everybody kept telling me, ‘No, no, no, don’t push. Keep it in,’ ” Penton told reporters Tuesday, smiling.
The plane made plans to divert to New Orleans — but within about 50 minutes after the first contraction, Penton’s water broke. By then, there was no mistaking it. Ready or not, her third child was on his way.
“It went really really quick,” Penton said. “There was no time to prepare or land or do anything.”
With the help of the cabin crew and passenger volunteers, Penton gave birth to a 7-pound boy, named Christoph Lezcano. The pediatrician noted that he had “a good color” to him, Penton said. The nurse clamped down on the umbilical cord with some rubbery straps they found on the plane, she added.
As news of the baby’s delivery spread through the cabin, people began clapping, according to Marlene Cabrera, a passenger on the flight.
“I think the thing that surprised me and others the most was the woman made no noise,” Cabrera told The Washington Post. “It was all quiet for about 20 minutes until you heard a baby crying, and then you heard people cheering and applauding. People on the plane were pretty good about it. … I just think it was handled in such a positive way.”
When the plane landed at New Orleans Louis Armstrong Airport, emergency medical crews boarded the plane and brought Penton and her baby to Ochsner Medical Center in nearby Kenner, La.
“A baby being born during a flight is very rare,” Spirit spokesman Paul Berry said in a statement. “But our flight attendants are trained to handle medical emergencies in flight and they have access to doctors on the ground via in-flight communication. In this case we were fortunate to also have a pediatrician on board who brought even more care and comfort to the situation.”
Spirit’s policy on flying while pregnant simply states that “women in their eighth month of pregnancy are urged to obtain an examination from her physician shortly before flying to confirm it is safe for them to travel.” Penton said that, because her first two children were carried to term, the thought of delivering at 36 weeks never concerned her.
On Tuesday, Spirit Airlines representatives visited the now-larger family at the Louisiana hospital to present them with some baby gifts — including free lifetime Spirit flights for Christoph and a guest on his birthday. Berry also told Penton at the news conference that Spirit would be reimbursing them for their rental car to drive back to their intended destination of Phoenix — and jokingly noted to reporters that they did not charge the family for things like water, even though the low-cost carrier typically charges for extras on board.
“The airline is also planning a special sale in honor of Christoph,” a Spirit spokesman said in an email.
At the news conference Tuesday, Penton looked remarkably calm for someone who had just been through her ordeal.
“He did what he wanted,” she said, laughing and glancing down at Christoph, who was cradled in her arms. “We were just all along for the ride, I think.”