How to Get Work Done on a Plane, According to Absurdly Productive Frequent Fliers
While many would prepare for a 14-hour flight by downloading music and movies and stocking up on melatonin, my plans are usually a bit different. In fact, I get excited for several hours of uninterrupted time to go through invoices, write stories, and focus on my work.
As a bonafide digital nomad, I’ve taken more than 50 flights in the past year and I’ve mastered the fine art of productivity miles high in the air. Though I’d like to think I’m special, freelancers like me and those who travel frequently for business have their own ways to remain focused on work while flying, too.
In addition to the curated Spotify playlists I use to drown out the noise of the cabin or crowded airport around me, I talked to frequent-flying professionals to find the best products for staying productive on a flight.
Bose QuietComfort 35 Noise-cancelling Headphones
There’s nothing quite like someone having a lively conversation with their across-the-aisle friend to distract you from the presentation you’re updating. To help me stay in the zone, I turn to Bose. These headphones are pricier than the inexpensive ones you can buy at an airport shop, but they’re worth the investment if you want to stay on task. As a bonus, once I’ve finished my assignments, I can also use them to try to sneak in a nap before landing.
To buy: amazon.com, $349
Spairtray Window Tray
One of the trickiest parts of working on an airplane is figuring out how to lay out everything you need in a teeny-tiny space. President of Travel Leaders Corporate Gabe Rizzi understands this firsthand, especially when squished into a window seat. To give himself more room, he travels with this compact, portable tray that slides into the window's shade track. It can hold your coffee, your snack, your passport, or whatever else you’re lugging so you can use your main tray table for your laptop and other tech accessories.
To buy: amazon.com, $25
3M Privacy Filter
If you’re in an industry where you handle sensitive information, you might be hesitant to work on a plane because you’re mindful of confidentiality. However, there are workarounds, as Skift.com President Carolyn Kremins noted. One of the easiest is a privacy filter that fits onto your laptop screen, making information invisible from an angle. “The privacy screen gives me peace of mind when I’m working without having to worry about prying eyes, or worse, visual hacking,” she explained.
To buy: amazon.com, $43
Anker PowerCore+ 26800 PD Portable Charger
Sometimes, technology runs out of battery before you do, and that’s why travel blogger James Cave gives his computer (and phone) a little extra boost by traveling with this portable charger. “There's nothing more frustrating than trying to work on a flight and then realizing that your laptop is almost out of charge,” he said. “This nifty, little power bank can not only charge a phone, an iPad, and a Kindle — all things I take on a flight with me — but also MacBooks and other laptops with USB-C technology.” Though it does weigh a little over a pound, Cave said it’s a small price to pay for knowing you won’t be without battery mid-flight.
To buy: amazon.com, $130
One of my most prized possessions is my MacBook Air. While the computer itself has been through plenty (I accidentally treated it to a full coffee bath in Prague), its durability makes my dream job possible. I couldn’t imagine taking a flight without it — and I’m not the only one. Travel videographer Lisa Niver, who has more than two million views on her Roku and YouTube channel, uses her flights to edit her ever-popular videos.
To buy: amazon.com, $1,199
Instead of looking at in-flight time as an opportunity to file a proposal or respond to emails, why not expand your professional development with a bit of reading like Founder of One Tribe Apparel and frequent flier Ryan O’Connor? “For most travel, I take the opportunity to catch up on reading business books as it offers a long interrupted time to absorb and digest the information,” he shared. “I love having a Kindle because I can keep such a wide array of books on hand and use the highlight feature to save important nuggets of wisdom.” For when he’s feeling especially inspired, he said he’ll take a pen and notebook to write down what he’s learning, too.
To buy: amazon.com, $130
If you’re an Apple user and don’t like over-the-ear headphones, Airpods might be a better solution for your heads-down needs, according to writer and content creator Emily Holbrook. “I like these for working on a plane because there are no cords to get in the way in a small space. While there are other cordless headphones, I enjoy the compact size of these,” she said. If you have a cross-Atlantic flight and you’re worrying about maintaining a charge, you don’t have to sweat it with Airpods, since Holbrook says they last up to a week. She also appreciates their comfort: “I hardly realize I am wearing them and can easily fall asleep on the plane while using them.”
To buy: walmart.com, $227
If you're easily side-tracked by everything on your computer — old photos, downloaded Netflix shows, you name it — take a page out of travel blogger Lia Garcia’s strategy book and use a Chromebook instead. These super lightweight, inexpensive mini computers work best with WiFi, but when there isn’t any, you can use the device to write, make to-do lists, or whatever else you want, without being distracted by extras. “This is the perfect writing laptop for anyone who has trouble focusing, because you can literally only do one thing offline on a Chromebook: write,” she said.
To buy: amazon.com, $229