Working from the middle seat of an airplane can be downright uncomfortable. Whether you’re a digital nomad, a consultant flying to a meeting, or, a writer on a deadline, Wi-Fi on airplanes can be a salvation. However, using a laptop computer on a plane can be a pain in the neck—literally. As The Guardian perfectly stated, “Notebook computer ergonomics are dreadful.” The ergonomics are made worse when used on an airplane. The cramped quarters and strange angles are far from an ideal, ergonomic work station and hunching over a laptop can cause serious neck and back pain, which can lead to chronic issues and repetitive stress injuries.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a lot of suggestions for what makes a good working position while seated at your desk, including keeping your hands, wrists, and forearms in line and parallel to the floor and your head level or slightly bent forward. While those suggestions can be hard to adhere to while trying to work on a laptop perched on a tray table in the middle seat of an airplane, your back and neck will appreciate it if you try. Keep your feet flat, keep your head and back up right (not slouched), your shoulders relaxed, and try to keep your arms, wrists, and hands straight.
The Spine Health Institute suggests starting to stretch before you even step foot on the plane: “Seasoned travelers tend to book the best-priced flights from six to 10 weeks prior to their travel date—and that’s a great time to start working on flexibility and strengthening exercises for your spine.”
Once you’re on the plane, store items in the center of the seat in front of you, so your feet can rest on either side, allowing you to stretch while seated and the bag can be used as a foot rest, as necessary. Additionally, bring a lumbar pillow (or improvise with an airplane pillow or your own jacket) to wedge between your lower back and the plane seat to help keep your back upright and not hunched over.
A Harvard study on technology and neck pain suggests propping the tablet on a stand that provides a good viewing angle (we love this simple, adjustable stand). If you frequently find yourself working on a plane, consider investing in a portable laptop stand that sits under the computer and props it up to a more ergonomically friendly angle.
OSHA points out that working in the same posture is not healthy, and the Harvard study seconded that notion, particularly when working on a laptop. To keep your back and neck happy, frequently change your posture and working position, take frequent stretching breaks, and consider booking an aisle seat so that when the seatbelt sign is off, it’s easy to go for a little stroll down the length of the plane.