Hong Kong-based budget carrier Hong Kong Express, which is owned by Cathay Pacific, has apologised after it demanded a passenger to take a test to prove she was not pregnant before boarding a flight to the US Pacific island of Saipan, the Washington Post reports.   

The 25-year-old Japanese woman, Midori Nishida, 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 in November at Hong Kong International Airport.

Before the November flight, she received a medical authorisation form and realised the assessment included a pregnancy test ― an apparent effort on the airline’s part to combat birth tourism in the destination, a US commonwealth that doesn’t require a visa for visitors from China and several other countries, the Washington Post says. Babies born in the Northern Mariana Islands are eligible for US citizenship at birth.

The form indicated there was suspicion about her health, because workers thought she resembled a pregnant woman. Nishida, who was not pregnant, said her reaction was “mostly confusion, because I had never encountered this kind of situation before”.

Nishida, who lived in Saipan for 18 years and has family there though no longer has residency herself, was later allowed to board the flight after her test result was negative. She wrote about the incident in the Saipan Tribune back in November.

“Coming back to Saipan has always been a happy time for me as I look forward to seeing my family and catching up with friends. But after this incident, I can only think of how I will be suspected, investigated, and humiliated before I can return to a place I consider home,” she wrote.

In an emailed statement to Business Traveller Asia-Pacific, HK Express said: “We would like to apologise unreservedly to anyone who has been affected by this. In response to concerns raised by authorities in Saipan, we took actions on flights to Saipan from February 2019 to help ensure US immigration laws were not being undermined. Under our new management, we recognise the significant concerns this practice has caused. We have immediately suspended the practice while we review it. We’d like to apologise for the distress caused.”