Our top in-flight must-haves

Your tickets are booked and the time has almost arrived for you to jet off on your adventure…except for one thing: packing. This is one of the least fun parts of travel and what to take in your carry-on luggage requires forethought, particularly if it’s a long flight, you have a layover or, have to get going as soon as you land. How to proceed? These are some of our favourite on-board packing tips.

Note that some airlines give our free socks, eye masks and ear plugs, and even toothbrush and -paste but it’s not a given – and, post-covid, you may be more comfortable using your own. So pop them into your bag anyway – you never know when you might need them and they barely take up room anyway.

Confirm the rules.
The most important thing is to MAKE SURE what your flight is allowing before departure. Sizes and weights do vary between airlines – sometimes quite drastically – and, although some airlines are more lenient, others will charge for any extra luggage. So, before you do anything, go onto the airline’s website and make 100% sure what you are allowed.

Check for banned items.
For all international flights, the general rule is liquids may not be more than 100ml in properly sealable containers and they usually need to be placed in a transparent ziplock bag (approximately sandwich size). However, this does varies and some are stricter than others so ALWAYS CHECK FIRST. If it doesn’t fit the specs, it will be confiscated and you won’t get it back. 

Remember the 3-1-1 Rule:

  • 3 = Three ounces (aka 100 millilitres)
  • 1 = One plastic bag with a maximum capacity of 1 litre
  • 1 = One bag per passenger. 

And remember to put your scissors, pocket knife, or other sharp items in your checked baggage or they will be confiscated! You are allowed to take snacks on board most flights. Visit the airline’s website to see their list of restricted items in advance, rather than getting caught out.

Many airports now have free water fountains/dispensers so hang onto that empty water bottle or take one of those ‘foldable’ ones with you.
You may just be able to refill it instead of paying airport prices for a new one, which is better for your pocket and the environment. (But please note: you cannot refill water bottles in airplane bathrooms – this water is usually not safe for drinking.)
Check out Water At Airports for more info or visit the airport’s website.

Hold onto important stuff.
Always pack things you can’t live without in your carry-on luggage. This includes chronic medication, chargers, a change of underwear and perhaps a clean top, make up, and a few basic toiletries like deodorant and toothbrush. That way, if your luggage gets delayed, you can at least put on something clean, take your medication, and charge your electronics while you wait for it to catch up with you.

The crucial things – passport, credit card, etc. – should NEVER be away from your person at all. Never. Ever. Not even on the plane. We mean it! Keep them on you at all times (for example in one of those little travel bags that you wear under your clothes). Even if you’re asleep or have to dash to the loo, you know they’re safe and sound with you.

Hand sanitiser and wet wipes.
Remember to stick to the liquids rule on liquid sanitisers. Look out for eco-friendly wet wipes if at all possible. First thing when you get on board, consider wiping down all the things you may touch – tray table, remote for the TV, seatbelt… That’s where the germs are hiding out. Keep your sanitiser with you and use it before you eat or even think of touching your face.

Wear bulky items.
Coats, jerseys, jackets, jeans, boots, etc. take up lots of space in luggage and are often heavy. If possible, wear your bulkiest items when in transit if your luggage space is limited – it may be a bit annoying to have to wear them at the time but, once on the ‘plane, you can stash them away or use them as a pillow, plus you’ll have more luggage space.

Comfort bag for airplane necessities.
When heading through the airport, you don’t really want tons of different things in your hands but, once on the plane, you don’t necessarily want your entire carry-on bag at your feet.

Take along a cloth bag in your hand luggage and, once you’re through security, put all those little bits & pieces you’ll need during your flight (charger, earphones, book, hand sanitiser, etc.) into the cloth bag to keep under your seat, then place the rest of your stuff in the overhead locker. You won’t need to get up and down during the flight because you have all your stuff with you. And, when you’re at your destination, you can use that shopper bag for, well, shopping!

Pillow for your head and neck
A u-shaped travel pillow really is a must if you don’t want to get to your destination with a crick in your neck (plus, the seats aren’t always that clean and you may not really want to rest your face against them…). Make it better with a pillowcase with which to cover it – added comfort and cleanliness.
The blow-up variety take up very little space when deflated and you can inflate them to your particular preference, although they’ll never be as soft as a proper pillow. The stuffed pillows tend to be plusher but you’ll be stuck carrying it around with you.   

Eyes and ears.
Airplanes can be pretty noisy and it’s hard to catch a few winks with the lights on (especially if it’s a day flight). A set of noise-cancelling ear phones or ear plugs will do wonders if there’s a crying baby or a chatty neighbour, while a soft eye mask can help you nap (or at least pretend to) when the lights are up.

Pack a scarf or shawl
A pashmina-type scarf in a colour that goes with everything is one of the best accessories to carry with you. Not only can you wear it in a multitude of ways as an accessory but it can give you a bit of extra warmth, you can wrap it around your head if you struggle to sleep, or fold into a pillow (if you forgot your travel pillow). When you get to your destination, it dresses up an outfit, and, if you’re going somewhere warm, doubles as a sarong or even a towel! Men can also benefit from taking a lightweight scarf along.

Most airlines do allow you to take snacks on board (within reason!). If you’re a hungry person, diabetic, or are travelling with children, pack some extra things to eat so you don’t have to wait for in-flight service which, on some occasions, may not even happen.

Check out our in-flight snacks post for more ideas: In-flight snacking tips

Something to do.
Yes, planes have movies these days – except when they don’t. We’ve all been on flights where there was a malfunction with your screen, or the audio didn’t work, or the films were all in a foreign language, or you’ve already seen all the Friends and Modern Family reruns. Don’t rely on in-flight entertainment especially if you’re travelling with children. Take a book, tablet, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, a journal, games on your smartphone – whatever can keep you busy in a pinch. And don’t forget to pack a non-leaking pen or two.

Dry skin busters.
Flying is very dehydrating, especially now that hand sanitisers are so widely used. Pack some lip balm, hand cream, moisturiser, etc. and use it frequently. And don’t forget your nose: when your mucus membranes dry out, this is when germs find it much easier to get in so use something like sweet almond oil or a balm (or even petroleum jelly, in a pinch) inside your nostrils to keep them moisture in and germs out. Remember to wash/sanitise your hands first.

First aid.
This doesn’t mean you need to pack a space blanket and defibrillator! Just take a few basics with you such as over-the-counter remedies for upset tummy, headaches and pain, nausea, sore throat, etc. It’s also a good idea to pack some vitamin C and immune boosting supplements.

PS: REMEMBER TO CHARGE ALL YOUR DEVICES BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME! Packing a portable power bank is recommended as not all planes have charging ports.

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