Movies, music, and more
Every major airline, and most of the smaller ones, have seat back entertainment. Generally these are of the on-demand variety, letting you choose from a variety of movies and TV episodes. But will they be the movies and TV shows you actually want to watch?
You’re probably better off bringing what you want. Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and others all have mobile apps that let you download content to watch offline.
Charging cable and battery
Since you’ll likely use your phone or tablet for a good chunk of the flight, you’re going to need to keep it charged. Long-haul flights usually have an airline’s oldest planes, so you can’t be sure if there will be a power or charging outlet available at your seat.
Noise canceling headphones
Noise canceling headphones reduce steady droning sounds like airplane engines. They’re not a cone of silence, but can make flights can go from “clamorous and tiring” to “loud, but tolerable.” At least, the best ones can. For the past several years, I’ve reviewed every major noise canceling headphone on the market, and even though there are dozens to choose from, the vast majority reduce very little actual noise.
You could, if you want to go the really budget route, just use earplugs (which many airlines provide in amenity kits). However, those rely on getting a good seal between the plugs and your ear canals which, on some people (like myself), isn’t easy. Plus, even if you get a good seal, the sound of an aircraft engine probably isn’t going to be reduced as well as it would be with a good pair of noise canceling headphones.
We’ve never been on a flight that had a steady or predictable temperature. It’s pretty much impossible, given the cold air outside, the humid, heat-producing mammals inside, and that pesky ball of fusion in the sky (or the lack thereof, depending on the time and weather). Layers are key. Some airlines will give you a threadbare blanket to “warm” yourself if it gets really cold, but I’ve never regretted bringing a hoodie or pullover. Worst case, it doubles as a pillow. We’ve had good luck with Smartwool outer layers, but they’re expensive and really anything easily removable will work here. I also tend to never wear shorts since I’ve been cold on planes more regularly than I’ve been hot, but you know your body best.
Different parts of the plane will also have some effect on the temperature. Window seats are likely cooler than aisles, and exit rows cooler than all others.
Anything you need for your personal comfort
There is a massive market for in-flight comfort products. Most are pretty useless. For example, if you only fly once or twice a year, spending money on a travel pillow probably isn’t worth it. Before you’re tempted to spend money on things you’ll use once or twice, consider saving that money for a seat upgrade.
However, other things may be good to pack in your carry-on. Most airlines on long, overnight flights, will also give you a sleep mask and a small tube of moisturizer, both of which you might find handy to bring yourself if you have a mask or brand of lotion you prefer. Airplane air gets very dry, and even at night there are lights around the cabin you might find distracting.
Usually you’ll get a bottle of water for free, but if you’re the thirsty type, bring an empty water bottle and fill it before you board. A snack won’t hurt either; just keep in mind that many countries, especially smaller island types, won’t let you enter with fresh fruit.
If you’re on the older or huskier side, consider compression socks. These should help keep the blood from pooling in your lower legs and feet, which can cause blood clots or uncomfortable swelling. But really, everyone should get up and walk around every few hours, especially on those long haul flights. Safe rule of thumb, if one of your seatmates gets up to use the bathroom, you should go too. Even if it’s just to walk around and stretch your legs.
Lastly, as we’ve mentioned before, a pen is handy. If you’re on a long flight, chances are you’ll need to fill out some sort of customs or immigration form, and airlines never have pens.