One-year-old David Banda was carried off the Boeing 747 and into the arms of a woman – reportedly, a nanny - who covered his head with a light gray coat.
Three armed police officers together with airline and airport officials escorted the party through Heathrow's Terminal 1 to the baggage hall. From there they were taken out of a back door and put into a silver Mercedes minivan.
The pop star and her husband, Guy Ritchie, were not seen at the airport.
Little David had to run the papparazzi gauntlet when he arrived. Whatever the pressures of the modern celebrity fishbowl, the child, it's argued by some adoptions groups, stands a much better chance in life here.
"A family, wherever it may happen to be, even if its not as good, even if its not perfect, but if it is of sufficient quality and has been assessed as such, then that has to be better than institutional care," Stevan Whitehead, a spokesman from Oasis, Overseas Adoption Support Group told CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips.
The boy left his native Malawi as human rights and child protection groups said they would go to court Tuesday to challenge the speedy court decision awarding Madonna temporary custody of the child.
Liz Rosenberg, Madonna's publicist in New York, said the child was issued a passport and a visa Monday.
"This interim adoption grants David's new parents temporary custody for 18 months, during which time they will be evaluated by the courts of Malawi per the tribal customs of the country," she said. "It is expected that the family will be reunited in the next few days."
Rosenberg declined to say when and where the family would be reunited.
Banda was accompanied when he left Lilongwe, Malawi's capital, by two Britons and two Americans, one of whom listed her occupation as nanny, according to a Malawi immigration official at the airport.
Human rights groups are concerned child protection regulations may have been swept aside to benefit a singer who has been generous to the impoverished, AIDS-stricken southern African nation.
Several local child welfare groups had tried to stop the adoption process, or at least slow it down so that the long term benefits for David could examined with less haste.
"He will need to be convinced that this was the best option for him and the only option. If there was a doubt that he could have stayed there, that he could have remainded with this birth family then that is going to be challenge him as he grows up," Chris Atkins, a spokesman from Transnational and Transracial Adoption Group told Phillips.
The Malawi High Court granted preliminary custody to Madonna and Ritchie last week, waiving a law that requires would-be parents to live in the country for a year while social welfare officers investigate their ability to care for a child.
Madonna's charity, Raising Malawi, is setting up an orphanage in the country for some of the 1 million AIDS orphans in Malawi.