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A HAPPY BABY MAKES FOR A HAPPY FLIGHT

Noelle Newman's first-class ticket was no protection against the other well-heeled passengers' ire. In no uncertain terms, the California financial consultant was asked to find a seat in the back of the plane.

Already flying coach, Peg Rosen was forced to endure icy stares from her fellow passengers for the duration of her hours-long flight from the Dominican Republic.

"It made me weep," admitted the sophisticated New York magazine editor.

What could these two polite, professional women possibly have done to provoke such anger? They were flying with babies -- twins in Newman's case. As adorable as these children were, they also were noisy and fidgety.

Rosen's son cried most of the flight from a painful diaper rash, despite his parents' best efforts to keep him comfortable. "We were trying so hard and everyone was looking at us like: 'What's wrong with you? Why can't you control this child?' " said Rosen.

"They just don't like small kids on planes, especially in first class," sighed Newman, who has made the trek to the back of the plane on more than one flight. "I understand how they feel, but it doesn't make it any easier."

With hundreds of thousands of parents flying with their little darlings, major airlines now are trying to make it easier -- and safer -- by offering parents half-price seats on domestic flights (other substantially discounted children's fares are available on overseas flights), so babies may fly strapped securely in car safety seats.

But even though these discounts have been available for nearly a year -- introduced with great fanfare last summer -- relatively few parents are buying them.

"I just don't think there's a great awareness of the discount out there," said David Castelveter, a spokesman for USAirways.

American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith adds that fewer than 10,000 parents flying American with infants -- less than 25 percent -- have bought the discounted seats since the airline became the first to offer the program.

This despite the fact that experts agree children are safer while restrained, just as they are in cars. FAA studies, in fact, say that five young children killed in plane crashes in the past two decades would have survived had they been restrained. Others have been hurt when unexpected turbulence strikes.

United flight attendant Susan Irick laments that too many parents bring the safety seats on board and don't use them.

But besides safety, there's the comfort issue. "Kids are used to sitting still or sleeping in their car seat," explains Carolyn Kolbaba, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a suburban Chicago mom of two.

Kolbaba says the expense for the extra seat is well worth the price, "not only for your child's safety but for your sanity."

Certainly strapping the baby in her car seat next to you is a lot easier than balancing a cranky, squirming child on your lap for two hours or more.

The Academy of Pediatrics endorses the use of safety seats on planes, as does the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security: "The commission believes that it is inappropriate for infants to be afforded a lesser degree of protection than older passengers."

Unfortunately, you're not home free even with a safety seat. The baby can be just as fussy as in a car. Well-traveled moms suggest booking flights when the kids are at their happiest -- after a good night's sleep and breakfast, for example. Don't count on them to take their nap in the clouds. Not only might they not sleep, but they'll be cranky because they're tired.

Plenty of inexpensive, gaily wrapped presents help, too, offers San Franciscan Sally Geisse, who flies to Europe with her three children every summer to visit her husband's family.

Rebecca Katz-White, a Long Island attorney, says she's constantly replenishing the "surprises" she stashes in the orange backpack she keeps for travel with her two young children.

"The kids look forward to the flight because they see the backpack and they know they'll get a special treat," she explains.

Necessities are as important as the treats -- more diapers and clothes than you think you could ever need. That goes for food, too.

Catherine Van Kampen's baby and toddler grazed their way across the Atlantic, nibbling on snacks she had packed -- biscuits, Cheerios, cheese and fruit. The food became entertainment as well as sustenance.

"They liked being able to peel the oranges and bananas themselves," explained the New Jersey mom.

Don't forget some food for you, too. Unless you're luckier than I've ever been, you'll be too busy to eat when the airline tray arrives. Throw some extra clothes into the bag for yourself also.

"I've seen parents get off wrapped in blankets," acknowledges flight attendant Irick, herself a mom.

Los Angeles mom Julie Mazur, meanwhile, says there's only one way to fly with a baby:

"More than one adult per child!"

Send your tips for surviving baby flight to Eileen Ogintz, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053 or e-mail to eogintz@aol.com

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