Flying in economy class today is a far cry from the golden age of flying, when a standard flight provided free blankets, meals, and even alcoholic drinks in some cases. Airlines these days compete to offer the lowest prices possible, and to do so, they’ve stripped out many of the amenities they used to provide free on domestic flights.
If your flight is more than an hour or two, it’s usually worth bringing along some items that can make your flight more comfortable. Below are nine things to consider packing in your carry-on.
Anyone who’s ever flown knows the dry cabin air can leave you dehydrated. It’s recommended you drink at least eight ounces of water per hour you’re in the air. While many airlines still give you water for free, some discount airlines don’t. Either way, it can take up to an hour after you board the plane for beverage service to start, so it’s best to bring your own water.
Though you’re not allowed to take liquids through TSA checks, you can bring an empty bottle and fill it up once you’re past airport security. If you’re in a country where the water in the airport is not safe to drink, you may need to buy a bottle of water from a vendor in the airport. That’s still better than not having any water with you on the flight. (See also: 5 Ways to Make Coach Feel Like First Class)
2. Snacks or a light meal
While some airlines still offer a small bag of pretzels to passengers, it’s increasingly common to find there is no free food at all on a flight. Instead, many airlines offer overpriced meals or snacks that you can buy. If you don’t want to pay those inflated prices, bring your own healthy nibbles. (See also: 15 Easy-to-Pack, Delicious, and Cheap Airline Snacks)
Light and lean proteins are best for long-distance flights because they are easy for your body to digest while sitting down for long periods of time. Turkey, chicken, tuna, and hard boiled eggs are good options that can easily be packed for your flight.
Avoid foods that are deep fried, processed, or high in sugar, as they can make you feel fatigued and restless. It’s equally important to watch what you eat before a flight. Gassy foods such as onions, broccoli, and carbonated beverages can make you feel bloated during long periods without physical activity.
Keeping yourself occupied is the easiest way to make a long flight go faster. That’s why most planes come with some sort of in-flight entertainment. But many airlines now charge for movies, with prices topping $5 for a single film.
If you don’t want to pay those prices, plan ahead and make sure you bring something with you to do. Download your favorite film or show onto a tablet, bring a book or e-reader with you, or if you’re traveling with friends or family, consider bringing a pack of cards or games you can play from your seat.
Even airlines that do provide free entertainment tend to not provide the headphones to allow you to listen to it. The crew will offer headphones for sale at the beginning of the flight, but they’ll be poor quality and expensive. Avoid that frustration by bringing your own pair of headphones so you can plug in for free if you get lucky with an in-flight movie.
You might even consider upgrading to good pair of noise-cancelling headphones, which can drown out unpleasant or distracting sounds.
Maybe you’re the type of person who likes to catch a few winks on a flight. Earplugs are a must if you don’t want a fitful nap interrupted by constant noise, especially in the tightly packed economy section.
Believe it or not, earplugs are not all created equal. I always go for the plugs that cancel out the most noise, while still feeling comfortable. Mighty Plugs are a great option for planes.
6. Eye mask
Once you’ve planned for the noise situation, it’s time to think about light. It can be difficult to catch some quality z’s when the sun is streaming in through the windows and the cabin lights are on. An eye mask can be a godsend in these situations, providing you with the darkness you need.
When shopping for a mask, look for something made from a cool, comfortable fabric with an adjustable strap. You may also want to consider a contoured shape that pushes the mask out from your face so it’s not resting uncomfortably on your eyelids. (See also: The 5 Best Eye Masks)
7. Pillow and blanket
Not so long ago, an airline branded pillow and blanket wrapped in a cellophane bag on your seat was a common sight. These days it’s rare for airlines to provide them as standard in economy class. Even in the unlikely event that you do find a blanket waiting for you, you probably won’t want to use it. Airline employees have admitted that the blankets are infrequently washed. You can buy travel blankets that roll up to a compact size. Another option is to wear a large scarf that you can cover yourself with.
If you plan to do any sleeping, you’ll want a pillow, too. An inflatable neck pillow is good because it folds up small for carrying. If you take frequent long-haul flights, you may even want to consider a lean-forward pillow, which lets you use the space in front of you for a more comfortable sleep. (See also: The 5 Best Travel Pillows)
8. Compression socks
One of the best ways to get comfortable on a flight is to kick back and take your shoes off. But no one will appreciate it if your socks smell like you’ve just run a marathon. The easiest way to ensure you don’t stink up the cabin is to bring an additional pair of socks with you.
Shell out a little extra for a pair of compression socks, which will also significantly reduce your risk of suffering Deep Vein Thrombosis during your flight. Though they’re particularly effective on long distance flights when the risk of DVT is higher, there’s no harm in wearing them for flying short distances, as well.
9. Hand sanitizer and sterile wipes
Studies have shown that airline cabins are filthy spaces. Tray tables, seat belts, arm rests, and even suitcases are rife with bacteria. The pressure to quickly turn around an aircraft between flights inevitably means that they’re not cleaned to a high standard.
Since most of the harm materializes as a result of touching infected areas, you can reduce the potential by keeping good hygiene. Use sanitizer spray or sterile wipes on the surfaces around you, as well as regularly on your hands.