6 Things to Keep You Sane on a Plane
Airlines are facing thinner and thinner profit margins, and in their attempts to stay in the black, they make us see red. Air travel has devolved into a series of indignities that begin when we book online and end only as we stumble towards freedom at our final destinations. I don’t think I’m alone in my experience of pre-flight anxiety in anticipation of the dreaded security dances, boarding cattle-calls, and seating designed for legless contortionists. The new trend toward flight attendants as part-time in-flight comedians must be the final insult — trying to help us laugh our way into forgetfulness.
To help cope with the most obvious challenges to basic comfort, I’ve compiled a list of strategic items every airline passenger should have at the ready. Think of it as your list of must-haves while stranded 30,000 feet above terra firma.
1. Earplugs or an MP3 Player
Haven’t we all begun to drift off to a hard-won sleep only to be startled awake by a squawking captain letting us know we’re 200 miles away from Yellowstone or that the temperature at our destination city is 75 degrees with a dew point of 55? For just such occasions, I always travel with a set of foam earplugs or an MP3 player to dampen the loudest inane announcements and operatic crying babies.
2. Sleep Mask
The newest and largest jets have video screens on the backs of each headrest that never shut off. Even if you choose not to pay for movies or TV, you’re subjected to animated airline logos and advertising for the entire flight. At night, these screens are just bright enough to keep you awake. Tuck a sleep mask in your carry-on to reclaim a bit of your visual and mental space.
3. Instant Coffee
You can have the finest beans in the world, but coffee brewed at 30,000 feet with gray water isn’t worth the resulting trip the restroom 20 minutes later. Bring your own instant coffee packets and just ask for hot water. Starbucks and other companies are jumping on the instant coffee bandwagon and offering decent options for coffee that is truly on-the-go.
4. Energy Bar
If you’re lucky, a flight attendant may lob a pack of pretzels at you sometime during the flight. Practice your catching skills. If you tend to not be satisfied by this delicious option and don’t want to pay $12 for a bagel (credit cards only, please) then pack an energy bar to stave off the worst pangs of hunger. Good energy bars can pack enough protein to tide you over to mealtime in relative comfort.
5. Pain Reliever
The headache of air travel is only made worse by a literal headache. Single travel-packets of aspirin are small enough for a purse or pocket and are life-savers on a long, crowded flight.
Imagine being engrossed in a tale of an advanced society that uses high-speed trains for all intracontinental travel — friendly staff, large seats, efficient schedules, and room to stroll would the order of the day. A good book (or two) is the best way to cope with the chaos of air travel. I would no sooner travel without a book than without a toothbrush and nine forms of ID.
In the end, modern air travel is all about preparation. Getting to your destination without a ton of negative emotional baggage is a difficult trick. Your list of essentials may be different than mine, but knowing how to travel defensively is the lesson. Take care of yourself, and for god’s sake, bring a book.