Photo by Alberto P. Veiga

Flying, especially on long haul flights, can be a downright miserable experience. And unfortunately, rather than improve over time, the flying experience seems to get worse and worse as airlines retract their amenities, one by one.

Remember the days when cheery air hosts and hostesses would hand you candies to suck on during takeoff, hot towels to refresh you, peanuts to snack on (allergies seemed exponentially lower in the past), meals on every flight (including a free, help-yourself snack bar on longer flights), free in-flight entertainment, amenity kits (even in economy) and coloring/games kits for kids? Oh yes, and seats where your knees weren’t rammed into the backrest in front of you?

Those days, clearly, are long gone.

Between the strict security rules surrounding liquids and carry-ons, the cramped seats and the reduced freebies, fliers are left to fend for themselves. Nevertheless, there are a number of items that you can bring on a flight to make the whole experience go a lot more comfortably. Read on for your in-flight packing list.

  • You can’t take a bottle of water through airport security, but you can take an empty bottle. Bring one with you to fill up after going through the security check-point but before boarding your flight; those little cups of water they give you on the plane are never enough to keep pace with the dehydration that occurs mid-air and it’s annoying to get up and ask for one when you’re trying to sleep but wake up desperately parched.
  • Bring something to stay warm. Even if you came from and are going to a warm place, planes can get frustratingly chilly. It’s hard to sleep if you’re too cold, or itchy from the scratchy airline blankets – which you might miss out on as not all flights carry enough blankets for every passenger.  A light sweater or pashmina can be a good solution.
  • Wear comfortable clothing. Opt for loose-fitting natural fibers that breathe, or choose clothes with some stretch in them, such as – dare I suggest – jeggings.
  • Wear sandals with adjustable straps. Your feet will swell, especially on longer flights, so if you take your shoes off at the start of the flight, you might have trouble getting them back on before disembarking. Sandals where the straps can be loosened are great not only for accommodating this, but also for slipping on and off at airport security, or mid-flight to go to the bathroom (don’t try to go barefoot or in socks – you can only imagine how bad someone’s aim would be given a little bit of turbulence).
  • Unless you want to shell out money for the airline’s headphones, bring along your own pair and enjoy the in-flight entertainment for free. These days, most planes take a single jack-style plug, so your iphone headphones should do the trick.
  • The cabin air can really dry your skin out, so come prepared with moisturizer, a soothing lip balm and a mini water spritzer so you can keep your skin fresh and hydrated.
  • While you’re at it, make sure you leak-proof any toiletries you bring on board. Either use up a small portion of the product before you pack it or if refilling mini containers, don’t fill it all the way to the top – liquids will expand in-flight, so give them room to do so. It’s also worth double bagging any liquids that are likely to try to make a break for it.
  • Bring snacks. Free food on domestic flights in the US seem to be a thing of the past, but even on international flights, it can often be a while between meals. Easy to carry snacks like nuts, trail mix or granola bars can help – just make sure to eat them or declare them at customs if traveling internationally.
  • Stay fresh with baby-wipes. They’re not just for babies – use them to clean your hands or freshen up after a long flight.
  • Bring a variety of reading material and entertainment. It’s easy to get ambitious about your holiday reading and assume you’ll work your way through War and Peace on the flight, but sometimes you find yourself unable to sleep despite being deliriously tired – and trashy magazines and sudoku are about as much as you can muster the energy for.
  • If you hope to sleep during your flight, be sure to pack an eye mask, an inflatable neck pillow and some earplugs. There’s nothing like a crying baby or bright lights to keep you awake.
  • Keep a pen on hand for filling in any customs or immigration forms. On the same note, make sure you have the full address of the hotel you’ll be staying at upon arrival at your destination, as this is often a requirement on immigration or entry forms and many border agents can be quite strict about it.

What do you think? Are there any other things you take on a flight that make a big difference to your comfort?