Until the system has been overhauled, here are some things you can bring on board that will help make your flight as pleasant as possible, whether everything goes according to schedule or you get stuck on the tarmac for seven hours.
1. Medication. If you take any prescription medications regularly, make sure they’re in your carry-on, especially if taking your medication on time is critical to your health. You also might consider bringing any nonprescription medications that could ease your flight, like ibuprofen for a headache, Dramamine for motion sicknesss, or pseudoephedrine for stopped-up ears.
2. Headphones. You can go all-out and purchase some noise-canceling headphones from Bose for $300, or you can try one of the many knockoffs that start as low as $30. These over-the-ear headphones can add unwanted bulk to your limited carryon luggage, though, so you might consider some noise-reducing earphones instead like Shure’s E2C headphones, which go into your ears like earplugs and create a seal to block out sound (they make your breathing and eating sound very loud, but it’s better than enduring crying babies or those constant, unnecessary in-flight announcements).
3. Snacks. If you can mange the space, you might want to bring as much as 24 hours’ worth of food with you in case there isn’t any available to buy during a delay. Dense, high-calorie foods like protein bars, nuts, and dried fruit are good options that will provide you with filling nutrition for minimal space. They’ll also save you money if you normally buy the tiny, overpried snacks sold on board.
4. Water. Flights are notoriously dehydrating, and those tiny cups from the beverage cart won’t quench your thirst. Bring your own water bottle, the larger the better. You can still take it through security as long as it’s empty, and then you can fill it up at the water fountain before boarding your plane. Then, you can enjoy the luxury of taking a sip whenever you’re thirsty instead of whenever you’re fortunate enough to have a beverage cart pass by.
5. Toothbrush. This small, lightweight item can go a long way towards making you feel refreshed during a long flight or delay.
6. Travel blanket and pillow. We’d all like to think that the pillows and blankets provided by airlines (when they’re actually available) are clean, but there’s no way to know for sure that your blanket doesn’t contain a previous passenger’s drool. Plus, the pillows are too small and the blankets are always staticky. Instead, bring your own travel pillow ($10-$30) and blanket (compact silk sleep sacks are surprisingly warm and can be had for $20-$30) to stay comfortable and warm on a cold flight. Also, putting a small pillow behind your back on the plane can make your seat a lot more comfortable, and both items will be indispensable if you get stranded in an airport overnight.
7. Plenty of warm clothing. Who knows why some flights are warm and stuffy while others seem to let in the freezing air from outside the plane, but since you never know what you’ll get stuck with, it’s always a good idea to dress in layers. Relatively small items like legwarmers and hats can add a lot of warmth for not much carry-on space.
8. iPod video. Though certainly not in the budget-saving category, for some people the best way to lose track of time and their surroundings on a flight is to watch TV shows or movies. Since not all flights offer in-flight shows (or ones that you’d actually want to watch), bringing your own entertainment is the way to go. The battery won’t last long with constant video watching, however, so make sure to purchase a portable charger like the i-Turbo (which provides about 25 minutes of viewing time per AA battery).
9. Podcasts and audiobooks. Another great benefit to bringing an iPod video on the plane with you is that you can also pass the time (or lull yourself to sleep) with podcasts and audiobooks. The podcasts, at least, can be free.
10. Laptop. If you have the space and aren’t skittish about your computer getting stolen or damaged during your trip, consider bringing your laptop on your next trip. You’ll have multiple activities at your fingertips to distract you during the flight. Depending on the length of your flight and what you’re planning on doing, you might want to get an extra battery and a privacy screen.
11. Portable DVD player. If you’d like something that has a larger screen than an iPod, but that isn’t as cumbersome (or as expensive) as a laptop, a portable DVD player might be a good idea. If you find a good deal, you can get one for under $100. (Unfortunately, the battery life on these isn’t any better than the battery life on your laptop, and extra batteries are expensive, so on long flights, you’ll need more than just a portable DVD player to stay entertained.)
12. White noise/relaxation tracks. If you really just want some silence, the closest thing you’ll get when surrounded by 200 other people is a white noise or relaxation track ($10). You can buy these as downloads to simplify the process of getting them onto your MP3 player, or if you’re still operating from a tape deck or CD player, just buy a tape or CD.
13. Icy Hot patches and/or pain medication. Sitting in a cramped space for such a long time and carrying around heavy luggage can take a toll on anyone, but especially people with pre-existing pain issues. Icy Hot patches don’t smell as strong as pain-relieving rubs, allowing you to sooth your pain without overly irritating the people sitting around you. They also don’t count toward your carryon liquid allowance.
14. Earplugs. If you don’t have noise-reducing headphones or don’t want to spend the money on them, earplugs are a small, lightweight, and inexpensive alternative. If you want to make some friends on the flight, bring extra pairs to hand out to your neighbors when the babies start crying.
15. Eyeshade. You never know if the person next to you will want to leave their reading light on during the entire flight when you were planning to get some sleep. Bring a thick eyeshade that really blocks out light and you’ll be able to rest regardless of the time of day or the activities of your neighbors.
Whether you bring all of these items or just a few, you’re bound to have a better flight with them than without.
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Photo by Rainer Ebert