Updated: Dec 2, 2022
A few years ago I was flying overseas when I was suddenly hit with a wall of scent. My eyes watered. It smelt like some hellish mix of ammonia, cat pee and pinesol. I instantly bonded with the stranger sitting beside me as we searched for the source. Was it a spray? No one looked suspicious.
I wondered if the airline was experimenting with some new industrial cleanser, or spraying disinfection through the air vents. Were we the unfortunate guinea pigs?
The Assault Intensified
Over the next 10 minutes the smell faded and I took a few cautious breaths. Until, there it was again! A fresh assault. My seat companion gagged. I looked around me and asked aloud, “what is that smell?” No reply.
Another few minutes and a third attack. This time I was sure where the source was. I turned and directly asked the woman behind me. ‘What are you spraying?’
She explained she was using essential oils to help her with the flight. Coughing, I explained how her comfort was seriously making everyone else around her very uncomfortable.
‘Its natural!’ She exclaimed.
I said, “So is a corpse, but I wouldn’t bring one on a flight”!
I didn’t actually say that of course, at least not out loud, the story didn’t end well. Whatever makes one person comfortable will not be the same for everyone. Here is what I will bring on a flight to make myself more comfortable:
A set of headphones helps to drown out the noise. The baby who is screaming behind you isn’t doing so because she hates you, it just feels that way. I feel bad for her. More so for the parents. But it is still a huge relief to crank up some music and drown out the noise. An airplane cabin when it is quiet is still 85 decibels so active noise cancelling earphones are best. Plus, if you get the earbud style you won’t even need to take them out on takeoff or landing on many flights.
2. An empty bottle.
If you are flying out from somewhere with clean tap water, fill up at a water fountain once you have passed security. It pays to be hydrated on a plane. Of course you can buy a new bottle, but buying a bottle of water only encourages more companies to bottle more water. Most bottled water is tap water. Check the fine print on the bottle ‘bottled from municipal sources’. Why pay someone else to fill up your bottle and create more plastic?
I am certain that the hotter the climate in the country you are travelling to, the colder they crank the air conditioner on the flight in or out. A blanket helps, but fewer airlines carry them and they take up too much room in your carry-on. If it is a night flight (red eye) the temperature will be lower as well. Flight attendants often do this to help people sleep and reduce their workload.
4. Smart Phone.
I used to take books, crossword puzzles, a camera, some sort of music player (first a cassette Walkman, then a discman and an iPod), pictures of my family and a pen and notepad on a flight. Now I take my Iphone. It helps to have anything better to do than watching the recycled sitcom or ‘reality’ show on the Airline screen.
Hey! I used my phone to write this post at 35000 feet
Make sure you put your phone into airplane mode. It saves your battery if it is not searching for a signal.
If you have seat back power. Charge up your device. If you are landing in a developing world context you may have a long drive or perhaps not have reliable power when you first get there.
6. Saline spray.
Someone once told me that airplane air is dry recycled burps and farts. Lovely thought. One thing is true, the air is very very dry. If you are susceptible to nosebleeds like I am, use a saline mist during the flight. Your nose will be grateful.
7. Cold medication.
If you have a cold or allergies, ascending and descending can block your sinuses up horribly. It can last for many days after you arrive. This can be uncomfortable. If you find it difficult to equalize, and yawning or gum doesn’t help, pop a pill to keep your ears clear.
8. A pen.
You need it to fill out the immigration or customs forms that the flight attendant will give you. It helps if you also have your passport number, flight number (on your boarding pass) and arrival address ready as well.
Those are the essentials. I used to take a bunch of other things, but I didn’t like hauling so much stuff. I started to pay attention to what I actually used, and found out I used a lot less than I thought and so I stopped carrying stuff. Haven’t missed a thing. It is a lot easier to travel light through life.
Now the question is over to you … what are your essentials?