Traveling by plane can be less than comfortable. Double if you are dealing with the American TSA. But careful selection and packing in hand luggage can make it more bearable.
The following devices and tools are almost exclusively designed to alleviate the stress of air travel and to pass those miles in an instant. Whether you prefer to take a nap in the sky, have fun or just feel as comfortable as possible while in the restrictive, cold and dry cabin environment, you will find something useful in the choices below.
Update, 5/31/22 Content update provided. Replaced with newer Kindle Paperwhite, Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones and Anker battery.
To pretend you’re somewhere else: Noise canceling headphones
This is a classic companion for frequent air passengers. Between the noise of the engine and the distraction of your less friendly companions, a means of blocking it all for your music or movies is essential. You can choose in-ear headphones for strong insulation, great sound and active noise cancellation. Also, you can get a truly blissful escape with a simple pair of real wireless headphones, if you want something a little less bulky. We recommend the Sony WH-1000XM4s for full size headphones or the Jabra Elite 85t for those who prefer in-ear headphones.
To pretend you’re somewhere else
The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones feature a 30-hour battery, state-of-the-art noise cancellation technology and beautiful sound quality in a solid, comfortable set of cans.
To pretend you’re nowhere: EarPlanes earplugs
Ordinary old foam earplugs will suit you just silence while napping or reading. But if you are bothered by the changing air pressure when climbing or descending, consider choosing a kit that is specifically designed to relieve that pressure. The airline crew loves EarPlanes — latex-free earplugs that open your ear canals and make them less prone to clogging, while giving you some noise protection. They come in sizes for adults and children, with disposable and washable options.
To pretend you’re nowhere
Just want peace and quiet? These noise reduction earplugs can offer you just that!
To capture some Zs: Alaskan bear sleeping mask
Sleeping masks are great for a good night’s sleep in your own bed, but they’re even better for environments where the lights are on all the time … like, say, a middle seat next to someone who wants the window open all the time. Because they are light and compact, the mask is a great companion on the trip, even for parts of the trip that are not flights. We recommend the Alaska Bear natural silk sleep mask, especially since it comes in so many bright colors and designs.
To capture some Z
To keep your toes: HotHands foot warmers
It can be cold in the cockpit of an airplane under pressure, especially if you are naturally prone to cold extremities. A convenient solution is a heated set of insoles for your shoes, which will provide you with enough extra heat to withstand aggressive cabin temperature control. Refillable versions are available, but they look less reliable and thicker than they could be.
We recommend the HotHands set of disposable chemically activated soles: open the package before boarding to start warming up and throw it away when you land. Alternatively, if you prefer to take off your shoes when the wheels are raised, MML’s battery-powered thermal socks offer the same functionality with three levels of heating.
To keep the toes
HotHands foot warmers
Avoid nasty drafts at the airport or on a plane and stay comfortable with these insole heaters.
To maintain hydration: collapsible bottle with filtered water
The cabin of the plane is also surprisingly dry and you will get thirsty quickly … but bringing bottled water through security is no longer an option, and flight attendants may be too busy to quench your thirst. Often travelers like to pack their bottles and refill at the fountain before boarding. But that means less space in the bag, and you may not believe the water from the fountain at the airport. Katadyn Befree Hydrapak bottle is the solution.
It contains a full liter, which should be enough to go through a flight of medium length, and includes a micron water filter in the lid. Best of all, its flexible plastic folds over for easier storage in the package, but straightens on its own when full. This bottle is also a great companion for hiking or camping at your destination.
To maintain hydration
For entertainment: tablet or e-reader
You will almost certainly have a mobile phone with you on the flight, and that is enough if all you plan is to listen to music. But the small screen is less than ideal for extended reading or video sessions, tasks for which e-readers and tablets are perfect for now when economical seats don’t have enough space even for comfortable laptop control.
The Kindle and iPad lines are de facto standard recommendations: we like the Kindle Paperwhite (ad-supported or opt for the ad-free version for a bit more) and the standard 10.2-inch iPad because of their combination of utility and value. The Kindle Paperwhite offers a large, glare-free screen, waterproof design and access to millions of book titles.
Do you want to read a book, browse a magazine or listen to an audiobook? The new Kindle Paperwhite can do it all!
For comfortable entertainment: portable stand
If you like a movie or two during the summer, you’ll want an easy way to back up your phone or tablet while you’re in the air. Since most manufacturers don’t want to include footrests in their designs, you’ll need to pack your own. Many tablet and phone cases include a small stand as part of their protective design, but we prefer the dedicated option because of its stability and flexibility. This adjustable aluminum model has served me well on several transatlantic flights, and it’s cheap enough that you won’t regret it too much if you accidentally leave it in a hotel room.
For comfortable entertainment
Tilt your smartphone, tablet, or book at a more comfortable angle (and hands-free use) with its stand.
To charge your devices: Anker Battery Bank
Of course, your phone or tablet will have to turn on and you will need a way to recharge them when they die. You probably packed the charger, but not all planes have electric access for each seat (especially in domestic flying buses). The solution is a portable battery that can fully charge your gadgets several times.
There are many portable batteries to choose from, but we are big fans of those from Anchors, like the PowerCore Slim 10K. It has a capacity of 10,000 mAh, connects via USB-C and supports charging up to 12 W. It makes it easy to charge your Android or iOS smartphone, tablet, headset, smartwatch or other small device. The bank has a circular LED wheel on the power button that shows you how much energy is left in it.
If you want a portable battery with a little more juice, get the Anchor PowerCore 26,800mAh option. It has three USB-A ports for fast charging, as well as two micro-USB ports for your older devices.
To charge your devices
For the safety of your belongings: anti-theft backpack
Airports and other tourist centers are notorious places for pickpockets because everyone’s bags are full of valuables. You can protect yours by choosing a bag that is specially designed to protect against thieves. We rounded up the best from the crowd, but our choice for general users is PacSafe Anti-Theft 25L. It offers reinforced material and belts, safety buckles, and even an RFID-resistant pocket for digital thieves. A tablet / laptop case is also installed.
To keep things close: Hanging flying bag
But what about access to all these gadgets when you’re on the air? To avoid awkward diving under the seat in front of you or squeezing the front passenger to access the overhead storage, we recommend the Genius Pack High Altitude Flight Bag.
This smaller package includes straps designed to wrap the carrier in flight on the seat in front of you, giving you quick and easy access to all your electronics and accessories. It’s small enough to pass like other hand luggage without rubbing against size restrictions, and the shoulder strap allows you to double up like a regular tablet or laptop bag when you arrive at your destination.
To keep things close