I love to travel. My husband and I enjoy seeing new places and going on little adventures. Usually while we are on vacation we are already talking about the next vacation we want to take! During the early years with our son, Calvin, a lot of questions came up while planning trips with him due to his CHD. Also, I had a lot of questions about flying with kids in general! So, I’ve compiled all my travel experiences here to give you a little more info on flying with a child with CHD.

Can my child with CHD fly?

Baby with CHD on his first plane flight.
Calvin, age 7 months, sleeping through his whole first flight. The flight was not full so we brought his car seat on board instead of lap riding as planned.

For most families, if your child is stable and generally healthy, the answer will be yes. But, check with your child’s cardiologist before flying for the first time to see if they have any advice or concerns. Some children with CHD may require supplemental oxygen at high altitudes. If needed, your child’s doctor will write a prescription for a durable medical equipment company to provide travel tanks and a nasal cannula for you. 

Sometimes the germy-ness of airports and planes in general is a concern when flying with a child with CHD. There are SO many people passing through the same spaces on any given day. If your child has a lower immune system some extra precautions may be warranted. Don’t be shy about wearing a mask or wiping down your seat with a Clorox wipe prior to take off. Most airlines would probably allow you to board early and wipe down your seats if you ask nicely. A note from your child’s doctor might go a long way too.

Tickets and Documentation

If you are traveling outside of the country, remember you must have a passport for your child. When traveling domestically your child will not need any identification until age 18. However, if your child is under age 2 and flying as a lap rider (no seat purchased) then you will need a copy of their birth certificate as proof of age. Southwest Airlines is particularly notorious for requesting to see birth certificates even if your baby is very obviously under age 2. In the U.S. children can fly for free as a lap rider up until their 2nd birthday. Children age 2 and older need to have a ticket and their own seat.

Flying with milk and medicine

Baby’s gotta eat! I was worried about this the first time we planned a trip to fly with our child with CHD. Thankfully, breastmilk, formula, baby foods, medicines, and even juices are not subject to any carry-on restrictions if you are bringing them for your child. Your baby does not even need to be present for you to travel with pumped breast milk. So if you are on a business trip, or any trip without your baby, no need to pump and dump. You can keep the milk in a small cooler with freezer packs if feasible.

According to TSA, you should notify security of what liquids you are traveling with. Place any medicines in a ziplock bag and remove them from your carry-on bag during security. You may also travel with ice packs or freezer packs to keep items cold if necessary. So, any medicine you may need to take with you is good to go when flying with a child with CHD. You can read more about TSA’s policies here.

Car Seats and Strollers

If your child has their own seat on the flight consider bringing their car seat on board. This gives them their own space that is familiar – I highly recommend this for about ages 1-3. I once had to bodily restrain a two year old into her own seat during the descent into Orlando (facepalm). We now always bring car seats, no matter how bulky, for the toddler stage. If you check the car seat you will definitely want a cover for it – they are only about $12 on Amazon. Otherwise they can get kind of beat up during loading and unloading into cargo. You can also get a cover that has straps and makes into a ridiculously bulky backpack for easier carrying through the airport. For about $50 you can get a cart to pull your car seat. (And as a bonus your kid can ride too!)

Most airlines will check a stroller for you at the front desk or you can do a gate check. When flying with our child with CHD we like to do gate check. That way we can push the stroller through the airport and let our son ride when needed. When you get off the plane they have the stroller back waiting for you right at the gate. Check with your airline’s policy on stroller sizes though. For example, American Airlines will only gate check strollers that weigh less than 20 pounds (so the luxury double stroller would be a no go).

Final Tips for Success

  • Pack plenty of activities for the entire length of the trip – preload a tablet with interactive apps, a movie, or songs. Bring a few new toys that have never been seen before. 
  • Pack plenty of diapers, wipes, a couple easy-access changes of clothes, and maybe even a new shirt for you (trust me) if traveling with a baby or toddler. 
  • Bring plenty of snacks or high value treats to help avoid an on-coming meltdown
  • Take advantage of any family boarding if available
  • Don’t stress, have a great time on your first flight with your child with CHD!

Also read: Taking Your Child with CHD to Walt Disney World