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Bringing a child into the world can be stressful under the best of circumstances. Preparing to fly to adopt a child whenever she’s born, and then fly her home just days later, adds another whole layer of stress. Fortunately, with a little bit of research, we were prepared and miles really saved the day. They made it possible for us to get home with our baby earlier than expected and cheaper than we had imagined. And, I learned in the process, that different airlines have different rules when you’re traveling with a baby that’s less than 14 days old. (If you’re traveling with a newborn, read TPG‘s flying with a baby checklist.)

Preparing to Adopt Our New Baby

My wife and I recently adopted a newborn baby, and in the process learned something about travel that we never knew before. Sure, children 2 years old and younger can fly for free on domestic flights as a “lap infant” but did you know that there’s a minimum age to fly? And, of course, each airline sets its own minimum age so there is no one consistent age.

lap infant
Flying with a lap infant. (Photo by Paul Hanaoka / Unsplash)

Since the baby’s birth mother lived in a different city, we made plans to fly out to be with her when she gave birth. But since our baby was going to decide for herself when she was ready to come out, we opted for award travel over purchasing a last-minute fare. Award tickets can be more flexible than paid tickets and with top-tier airline status I’d be able to change the tickets without a fee.

Flying to Meet Our Child

There were no saver awards available when we wanted to fly, so we booked mileage tickets at the standard award rate. However, we got a call three days before the baby’s due date that the mother was going into labor. We needed to head to the hospital right away and, at the last minute, there were saver awards open. Not only could I change our tickets, I could save miles too. Instead of the flight costing 30,000 miles apiece (or nearly $750, ouch), we spent just 12,500 miles each way.

While there was a bit of a flight delay, we were still able to head straight to the hospital from the airport and make it to see our new daughter the day she was born. The next couple of days were a whirlwind of time spent with the birth parents, time spent with our daughter in the hospital and, eventually, a night alone with her in our hotel. I had booked into an extended stay property so we’d have both a refrigerator and a microwave, to make feeding her easier.

baby and dad
Bonding with baby. (Photo by Cavan Images / Getty Images)

Minimum Age to Travel in Practice

We didn’t know for sure when the birth parents would sign the relinquishment to us. It had to be a minimum of two days, but the birth mother also had to be off pain medication for a period of time. It was really going to be up to her and to her doctors, which made it tough to plan travel back home. I did some research and discovered that American Airlines was going to be the only viable choice if I wanted to avoid 10 hours in the car with a newborn.

  • United doesn’t accept infants less than 7 days old
  • Southwest requires infants to be more than 14 days old
  • American Airlines will accept infants that are 2 days old but if they’re less than 7 days old, a medical form signed by a physician is required.
  • Delta has a policy that’s similar to American’s but their routes weren’t an option for this trip.

Getting a Medical Clearance Form for a 3 Day Old

The first logistical challenge I faced with American was that reservations agent, and even the first person I spoke with at the special services desk, weren’t sure what I needed to do. Special services told me I probably wouldn’t need the medical form; that it was only required if there was a medical problem. That’s definitely not American’s policy.

After several calls, and much time on hold, I sorted through the process. I definitely needed the form for a child less than 7 days old to be permitted to fly though, of course, no one could tell me whether any given agent at the airport would insist upon it. Since they would ask for her date of birth, I wanted to be sure to follow proper procedure, which turned out to be:

  1. Create a reservation.
  2. American’s special services desk faxes the medical form directly to the hospital or physician.
  3. The completed form gets faxed back after it’s signed by the doctor.
  4. American processes the form.

The process could take 24 hours. However, a second hurdle was that I didn’t know when the adoption would take place, so I didn’t know exactly when I needed to travel in advance. I couldn’t wait until the last minute to buy the ticket or else we would need to hang around an extra day while the hospital and American processed paperwork.

I wanted the medical form prepared in advance so I booked another award ticket — again an extra mileage award at 30,000 miles, which I’d be able to change at no penalty — just to create a reservation and get the process started. That way, I could just change flights to whenever we were ready to travel, and we’d already have travel approved by the airline.

The form came through to the hospital barely legibly. It wasn’t specific to infant travel, but a broader medical form. There were lots of questions to tick through, many of which weren’t relevant. The doctor signed the form and the hospital faxed it back. Then, a couple of hours later, I got a call from American telling me it was done improperly and needed to be redone.

newborn baby and doctor
Photo by Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

Fortunately the hospital was incredibly accommodating, though they had never heard of such a requirement. The adoption agency hadn’t either. Both reported that parents fly with newborns all the time and nobody questions it.

On the one hand, I felt like I was being silly going through unnecessary hoops. On the other hand, when we were ready to fly home, the last thing I wanted was an extra hassle — or to become a story on the news.

Smooth Sailing Home With Our Daughter

Once the medical form was returned a second time, I got a call from American letting me know we were cleared to travel. I kept a copy of the form with me, just in case, but nobody asked for it at the airport.

Check-in was smooth, as was security. We got to the airport in time to feed her before boarding, and she slept through the entire flight. I was worried about pressurization causing ears to pop during takeoff and landing, but that was never an issue. She was 3 days old when she flew for the first time — and didn’t cry a single time until we were about two blocks from home and needed a diaper change.

Bottom Line

There are plenty of expenses involved with welcoming a new baby to the world, via adoption or otherwise. While bringing her home would have certainly been worth whatever the cost of last-minute airfare, it was great to have used miles I earned getting the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard® (currently 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles after spending on $4,000 in purchases within the first four months). With all the factors, expenses and variables at work, airline miles (and elite status) made it just a little easier to welcome our daughter home for the very first time.

Featured image by Adam Drobiec / EyeEm / Getty Images

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