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5 Ways to Prepare for Baby's First Flight

For new parents, preparing to embark on that first family vacation can be a stressful experience. There are so many issues to consider -- both in terms of comfort and safety -- that the idea of boarding a flight with a baby can be daunting.
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For new parents, preparing to embark on that first family vacation can be a stressful experience. There are so many issues to consider -- both in terms of comfort and safety -- that the idea of boarding a flight with a baby can be daunting. However, tackling the first airplane journey can be a rewarding experience, and even help set the tone for a lifetime of travel. As you prepare for baby's inaugural flight, keep these tips in mind.

Consider buying your baby a seat

It can be tempting to allow your baby to sit in your lap during the flight rather than purchasing a separate ticket. However, a safer and more comfortable option is to make sure that your baby has his or her own seat during the flight. Not only will this allow you to make sure your child is safely buckled in, it also gives both of you room to get comfortable. You'll be able to use your tray table (which can be difficult to do if there is a child in your lap) and your baby will be able to enjoy the familiar feel of riding in his or her usual car seat. It might not be as budget-friendly as foregoing the extra ticket, but you'll appreciate the extra room, especially on long flights.

If you are considering allowing your baby to sit in your lap rather than in a separate seat, be sure to check with your airline first. The Federal Aviation Administration allows children who are between 14 days and 24 months old to sit on a parent or guardian's lap, but strongly advises infants under 40 pounds to sit in a child restraint system (such as a car seat) during flights. Check with your airline to see if additional restrictions apply. And remember to pack your baby's birth certificate. You could be denied boarding or asked to buy a separate seat on the spot if you cannot prove your child is 2 years old or younger.

Don't forget the car seat

Although lugging a car seat around the airport is not particularly pleasant, there are advantages to bringing your child's car seat onto the plane rather than checking it with the rest of your luggage. Assuming you've purchased a separate seat for your baby, a car seat can help protect your child if you encounter turbulence during your flight. Additionally, by using the car seat in flight, you won't have to worry that it will get lost or damaged en route to your destination.

To bring the car seat on the plane, it must have this label printed on it: "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft." If it doesn't, you'll be asked to check it with the rest of your luggage. Also, before you head to the airport, measure the car seat. According to the FAA, car seats should be no wider than 16 inches. For more specifics, consult the FAA website.

Skip the fancy stroller

Although you might want to bring the big, roomy stroller with the cup holders and tray table with you to use during your trip, consider checking it with your luggage and bringing a small umbrella stroller through the airport and onto the plane. A smaller stroller might not have as many bells and whistles as your fancier model, but it will be lightweight and easy to fold up when you reach the gate.

Bring a new toy and an old favorite

Keeping a baby entertained on a long flight can be a challenge, especially if your baby has a hard time drifting off to sleep in an unfamiliar environment. However, you can keep little ones happy by bringing along a new toy. Because it can help distract your baby from any ear discomfort caused by the change in air pressure, don't reveal the toy until the plane actually takes off. You'll also want to pack a familiar stuffed animal or two, plus a few colorful, age-appropriate board books. As with the toys, aim for a mix of old and new books.

Pack plenty of supplies in your carry-on

Most parents don't leave the house without a diaper bag filled with ample supplies and, of course, a flight is no exception. Be prepared with plenty of formula, milk or healthy snacks, and bring more than you think you'll need. You never know when a flight will be delayed. Also, bring along essentials like diapers and wipes, a change of clothes (or two) for your baby, and antibacterial wipes for cleaning the tray tables. Additionally, consider packing an extra change of clothes for yourself in your carry-on. As many parents know, spills and leaks can wreak havoc on your outfit as well as your baby's.

Sarah Vernetti is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer who specializes in family-friendly travel throughout the American Southwest. Follow her adventures on Twitter @SarahVernetti or visit her online.