A Very Honest Story About Flying With a Two-Week Old baby

a month ago
Image: Getty Images Design: Kenzie Mastroe/SheKnows

Two weeks postpartum. I picture a mom wearing someone else’s sweatpants, hibernating at home getting to know her new baby. Meals delivered by friends and family....and Munchery. If she’s lucky, between feedings, a little catching up on movies and This Is Us. Her two week old baby is getting into the routines of eating, sleeping and pooping….a lot. And of course the constant spitting up or even a projectile vomit or twenty. The constant humming of the washer and dryer. The thought of going out, even to the grocery store….pretty much non-existent.

 Picture me a little bit differently. Ok, totally differently.

Shortly before my husband and I found out we were pregnant, my brother and his fiance picked their wedding date and location. June 25th on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Our toddler would be the flower girl, my husband, the best man, and myself, a bridesmaid. So excited. In the calendar. Can’t wait.

The following week while out for a run, I was so tired I had to stop. I felt nauseous. I knew this feeling. Yup, pregnant. Immediately I started calculating when we would be due. “I think we will deliver in May,” I said confidently to my husband. With an end of June wedding, that should give us plenty of time to get back in the swing of things postpartum.

I was nervously sweating at my first doctor’s appointment. “Your baby is due June 2nd,” our doctor announced happily while typing into our file. “Dammit.” I told her our conundrum.

Well, June 2nd came and went. Still no baby. June 3, 4, 5….no baby. During my June 6th appointment, I began to cry as my doctor advised me, “I don’t think it’s such a good idea for you or the baby to do any traveling.”

June 7...delivery day! 10:59pm (yes, this detail will be important later)

Two weeks later, June 21st. 8:15am. My two week postpartum body, complete with the ever-so beautiful, oh-so stretchable and absorbable “boy shorts” the hospital provides, stood at Southwest Airline’s curbside check-in with all of our luggage, a three year old and our two week old while my husband went to park the car in long-term parking.

I was a nervous wreck. I could picture the faces on all the little germs crawling all over the tray table and headrests. Would the baby’s ears be ok on takeoff and landing? Would the baby projectile vomit all over the plane (like she has been doing most days since we left the hospital)? Would our checked bags make the tight transfer in Chicago? Why is Boston so far? Should I just go back home and watch the wedding via FaceTime?

“Heading to Boston?” the bag check employee asked.

I handed over my driver’s license.

“Can I see the baby’s birth certificate?” he asked while printing out our checked baggage tags.

I handed over her proof of birth letter since she was still too young to have an actual birth certificate yet. Note: If your child is under the age of 2 (a lap child), you need to travel with their birth certificate. When your baby is born you get a ‘proof of birth’ document that basically says that 1. They were born, 2. Their birthdate and, 3. Where they were born.

“Ummmm, yeah, ummm. Hey, Amanda, how old do babies have to be to fly?”

“Two weeks,” his colleague said without even looking up from her computer.

“Yup, she is two weeks old,” I said. I felt like I had to defend my situation. “I wouldn’t be flying with a two week old, but it’s my brother’s wedding and we are all in the wedding. Our three year old is the flower girl, my hus…”

“No, I think the baby has to be more than two weeks old,” he said back.

“I need to call my supervisor, ma'am.”

What?

“Yeah, how old does a baby need to be to fly? Uh, huh. Yup. Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

He looks up at me.

“Ma’am, your baby needs to be over two weeks old, and your baby will be two weeks old tonight,” he said to me and began to tear the freshly placed checked bag tags off my luggage.

Wait, what?

“If you were flying tomorrow, you wouldn’t be in this mess,” he began to laugh.

My eyes welled up. Is he serious? I called Southwest last week to add a lap child onto my ticket. And at yesterday’s doctor’s appointment, I asked our pediatrician if there was anything we needed to do for flying with a baby so young. Everything checked out fine.

“The only way you can get on that plane is if you have a doctor’s note,” he added. “Here’s the fax number to send it to, IF you can get one.”

Keep in mind, I think I got maybe 3 hours of sleep last night and no traces of caffeine. So my level of functioning was sloth-style at best.

We had an hour and a half before our flight left for Boston (via Chicago), and this guy wants me to get a hold of my doctor to get a signed note and faxed to Southwest because my two week old wasn’t born a few hours earlier?

“Next,” he shouted to the next customer in line.

Just great. My husband is parking the car and I am standing here, un-checked in, with sleep deprivation, huge sweatpants, way too much luggage to manage, a three year old, and a not-quite-two-week old.

I pushed all of our luggage over to the side, sat down on my suitcase and called Kaiser. I wasn’t feeling very hopeful at the moment. I already had it in my mind, that my husband and three year old would get on that plane, and my two-week old and I would head back home and miss the wedding. I was so beyond tired, that this idea didn’t sound all that bad….

“How can I help you?” the on-call nurse on the other line said.

I told her my story and she couldn’t believe it herself. Now this is the moment where I will love Kaiser Permanente forever. The nurse immediately connected me with the nurse in my doctor’s office. I didn’t even have to repeat my sob-story, because the first nurse already took care of that for me. The second nurse, said she was typing up a letter as we spoke, and she would have it signed and faxed within 20 minutes.

That ultimate rule-following Southwest employee looked surprised as he received my faxed approval. He reprinted the baggage tags and we were through.

Next up, six hours of flying time. An hour plane transfer in Chicago, car rental, and a 2.5 hour drive to Cape Cod, Massachusetts.I used an entire package of wipes to scour our entire row of the plane.“Oh wow, how old is your baby?” several travelers asked looking confused and a bit shocked. "Take care of that baby," they would say. I tried my best to hide during our day of travel. Thank goodness for my husband’s sweatpants.

Our cross-country journey with a two week old had a very happy ending, a very tired one, but happy. With the lull of the plane engines, she slept pretty much the entire way to Boston. Changing planes half way was good for me to be able to walk around (since I was definitely still in recovery). I think the toughest part was waiting in line to pick up our rental car in Boston and the two plus hour drive to the Cape.

After we got settled into our hotel in Wellfleet, I looked up Southwest Airline’s infant policies. Sure enough, here it is:

“One child OVER 14 days old….” 

So the Southwest employee who checked me in was completely right. Even though I had asked Southwest when I called to add an infant lap child over the phone and checked with our pediatrician to see if I needed anything else to prepare for our trip, now I know to always check the airline’s website and read ALL of the fine print.

Check out Southwest’s Baby on Board webpage for more details about flying with an infant. https://www.southwest.com/html/customer-service/family/baby-on-board-pol.html

Would I recommend flying across country with a two week old and a postpartum body? Of course not! No one would! But when your brother gets married, you make it happen. The journey back home with a 3 ½ week old was much less stressful. Again, she slept the whole way west. We even met another baby flying that was the same age. We touched down in Oakland and I was thrilled to be back home in my extra-square footage sweatpants listening to the hum of our dryer. After this experience, the daunting task of taking a baby and a toddler to the grocery store alone was a breeze.  

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travel parenting baby
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