Coach class has never been more uncomfortable, what with full planes, less personal space, and a scarcity of food, blankets and pillows. My antidote to this misery is to pack a carry-on that holds all of my belongings and everything I need to maximize my comfort.
My opinion of coach is not unique. In fact, on a recent flight, a seatmate turned to me and asked, “Are we getting bigger, or are the seats getting smaller?” The answer to both questions is yes. Surprisingly, I’ve found that by packing more — and more intelligently — not only do I enjoy greater comfort but I avoid the increasingly long check-in lines and waits at the baggage carousel. Before you post to my blog to tell me I’ve lost my mind, hear me out:
Throw out your toiletry kit
My toiletry kit has now been reduced to a quart-size zip-top plastic bag. Everything goes in it, including liquids, gels and creams in containers of three ounces or less. The products duplicate those I already have at home, so I never need to unpack or repack it. When I’m not traveling, I keep the bag inside my Tumi wheelie, awaiting my next flight.
Pack a sandwich-size zip-top bag within the quart-size one
Into the smaller bag go those items that I may want to use in-flight: artificial tears, lip balm, hand cream, facial moisturizer, Mack’s earplugs, an eye mask (more on that later), Tylenol, vitamin C or Airborne pills, and Sudafed in case I’m congested (it unclogs the ears). Upon arriving at my seat, I put the sandwich bag in the seatback compartment; the large one remains in my wheelie, which goes into the overhead bin.
In addition to a wheelie, carry a laptop bag or lightweight duffel
If you’re female, you’ve probably noticed that the carry-on rules — which allow for one wheelie and one personal item (say, a laptop) — leave no room for a pocketbook. What to do? I carry a nylon sport bag that folds into nothing and lives in the outside pocket of my Lowepro Factor Tote laptop bag. If an airline official sees my wheelie, laptop bag, and pocketbook and says I’m not allowed to have three carry-ons, I reduce them to two by placing the laptop bag and pocketbook inside the sport bag. Sadly, this won’t work in the United Kingdom, where passengers are limited to one carry-on.
Bring bottled water onto the plane
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you why it’s essential to stay well hydrated on planes. When I’m flying from airports where they let you bring water on board, I purchase at least two small bottles after I’ve gone through security and carry them in the roomy outside pocket of my Lowepro laptop bag (which also holds my camera).
Use Magellan’s self-inflating seat cushion
I carry this in the outside pocket of my wheelie and move it to my airline seat pocket before shoving the wheelie into the overhead compartment. Twist the valve and, as if by magic, the cushion fills with air. Sitting on it keeps your legs, hips, and butt from cramping (by taking pressure off your spine) and makes you feel like you’re suspended on a cloud.
A few caveats for those who are tall or large: Since Magellan’s cushion elevates you two to three inches, your seat belt may fit a little more snugly, the in-seat headrest may be poorly aligned (if you pull the wings of the headrest forward, they’ll hit your shoulders instead of your neck), and it will be tough to use a laptop comfortably. Magellans.com; $50.
Wear the Komfort Kollar
I’ve used many a neck pillow in my day, and my favorite is the compact Komfort Kollar, which you inflate (with a few deep breaths), wrap around your neck, and fasten with a Velcro strap. It completely surrounds your neck, protecting it no matter what position you twist your body into, especially if your head drops forward while you’re dozing. Magellans.com; $27
If you’re lugging a laptop, consider the Aviator Laptop Stand
The taller you are, the harder it is to use your laptop when the seat in front of you is reclined. Even when it’s not reclined, you have to slump down in your seat, slide your legs forward, and contort your lower spine just to see what you’re typing.
The Aviator stand raises the screen about three inches. It takes five seconds to assemble, and when disassembled, the thin plastic pieces just slide into your laptop bag. Warning: Because the stand’s risers extend toward you from the tray table, how well it will work for you depends on how large your belly is. And you probably can’t use the self-inflating seat cushion and the laptop stand simultaneously, since the extra height from the cushion may cause your belly to collide with the risers. Keynamics.com; $20
Get an Oscar & Dehn Sightseeing Eye Mask
This mask is so cool — literally. Filled with gel, it soothes the head and sinuses, relieving headaches and reducing eye puffiness and bleariness. For extra relief, place the mask in a cup of ice for five minutes before using it. Oscardehn.com; $17
Consider Bose QuietComfort Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Many frequent travelers I know swear by these for their sound quality. I prefer to use them in conjunction with $5 Mack’s earplugs to seal out cabin noise almost completely. Bose.com; $299
Pick up a Cocoon CoolMax Blanket
When I’m flying to a cold-weather destination, I carry a pashmina, which I use as a blanket on board, as a scarf upon arrival — and as a head covering in Islamic countries. If I’m bound for warm climes, however, I carry the compact, lightweight, moisture-wicking Cocoon blanket. It’s as soft as silk pajamas and as warm as flannels. Campmor.com; $30
For overnight flights, give the 1st Class Sleeper a try
What the self-inflating seat cushion does for your bottom, the Sleeper does for your back. You place it behind you and partially inflate it (about 12 deep breaths) until it resembles a miniature swimming-pool raft that’s half-inflated.
When you lean back into the Sleeper, it shifts your pelvis forward, putting you into an almost-straight recline. Since this will feel awkward unless you can stretch your legs out underneath the seat in front of you, the Sleeper makes sense only if you’re able to cram all of your excess belongings into the overhead bin. Because it’s a little bulky and heavy (even when deflated), I carry the Sleeper only on overnight transoceanic flights. 1stclasssleeper.com; $30
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