7 Tricks to Getting Work Done on an Airplane

jet blue airplane

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Every year, Americans make an average of 405 million trips for business, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, about 16% of them via plane. Yet despite business travelers’ best intentions (and their bosses’ expectations) time spent in the air often isn’t that productive.

As seats continue to shrink and flights are fuller than ever, even seasoned road warriors can find it difficult to get work done at 30,000 feet. Less frequent flyers may find it nearly impossible. A study by Carlson Wagonlit found the average business traveler lost nearly seven hours of productive time due to being stuck in economy class and other stressors like lost luggage and delays.

But before you give up and just settle in for the in-flight movie, know this: You don’t have to resign yourself to losing those hours if you have a solid plan for working on the plane. The next time you jet off for a conference or meeting, keep in mind these tips to maximize productivity as you fly.


1. Prepare before takeoff

Getting work done on an airplane starts before you even board the aircraft. Charge your device of choice before you take off (many planes have power outlets, but there’s no guarantee they’ll work) and download any material you want to work on while in flight, since airplane Wi-Fi isn’t always fast or reliable. Making a list of the specific tasks you want to accomplish while in flight can also help you work more efficiently. Plan to tackle the most important items first, while you’re still fresh and alert.

2. Be realistic about what you can do

to-do list

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If you’re stuck in economy, working on your laptop may be frustrating at best or impossible at worst. Copy a move from small-business adviser and frequent traveler Marla Tabaka, who plans to work on tasks she can accomplish on a tablet or even a notepad when flying in cramped conditions. A flight is also a good time to catch up on work-related reading or the latest business bestseller your boss keeps mentioning.


3. Don’t automatically opt for Wi-Fi

WiFi still isn’t universal on U.S. planes, and even when it’s an option, only 6.7% of passengers pay for the service. Still, if you have the option to go online while in flight, you may jump at the chance, assuming it will make you more productive. But that may not be the case. For some travelers, an uninterrupted block of time is a golden opportunity to think about more complex projects or brainstorm solutions to nagging problems. Spring for Wi-Fi and you may fritter away your hours in the air on Facebook.


4. Stay hydrated

Cabin humidity levels are significantly lower than average indoor humidity, which means dehydration is a common problem when flying. Not only does a lack of water make you feel gross, but it can make it harder to get work done, since dehydration “contributes to fatigue and poor performance,” according to business travel expert Jayne McAllister. Do yourself a favor and sip plenty of H2O (and pass on the booze) if you hope to finish up that PowerPoint presentation before you land.

5. Choose the best seat

row of airplane seats

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Whether you prefer to hunker down next to the window, stretch your legs in an aisle seat, or covet a spot at the front of the aircraft, you’ll get more work done the more comfortable you are. Check out Seat Guru to find the best seat on your upcoming flight and check out reviews from other travelers. You’ll find out which seats have power outlets, are drafty, don’t recline, have limited underseat storage, and more.


6. Create your bubble

When you’re sitting near noisy fellow travelers, earplugs or noise-canceling headphones are a godsend. A good pair of the latter will let you “tune out people that want to talk to you,” frequent traveler Stephen Marino told USA Today. They’ll also help drown out engine noise. This pair from Sony cost less than $100 and come recommended by the travel experts at Seat Guru.


 7. Take a power nap

Sometimes, the best thing you can do in-flight is to get some much-needed shut-eye. After all, you won’t be as productive once you land if you’re bone-tired. Earplugs and a sleep mask can help you catch some z’s while flying, Terry Cralle, a sleep expert and registered nurse, told Condé Nast Traveler. Meditating can help you relax, and you’ll also want to fight the temptation to fiddle with your devices.

“Skip the movies and TV – the end result of staring at a screen during much of your flight means that light is hitting your retinas, and telling your brain and body that it’s daytime, and sleep will be much tougher to achieve,” Cralle said.

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