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Tips and gifts for comfortable holiday air travel


From reduced legroom to fewer blankets onboard and the phasing out of any food that’s not overpriced, cold, and at least three days old, airlines are making it more and more difficult to be comfortable on flights these days. If you’re not up for paying the high price of business or first class, but still aren’t ready to throw in the airline blanket, bringing your own comfort is the only way to go.

Just in time for the holidays, I asked editors about their favorite in-flight comfort items. Whether you use this list as inspiration for personal comfort or as gift ideas for the travelers in your life, here are some ideas for a more comfortable holiday travel season.

Physical comfort

As if cramped legroom, narrow seats, and crying babies weren’t enough to guarantee an uncomfortable journey, some airlines are now taking away the free blankets that were the only thing standing between passengers and hypothermia. More than ever, staying warm and comfortable onboard really does require some advance planning. Here are some editors’ favorite ways to carry on comfort.

Executive Editor Anne Banas swears by her Prana fleece yoga hoodie, saying, “I’ve never felt a softer material against my skin, and there are no uncomfortable buttons, snaps, or ties that can be irritating when you sit for a long time. It’s also lightweight, in addition to being warm and cozy, so it’s an ideal travel garment.” The fleece costs $70 and is available online at A less expensive but equally warming alternative is the PB Blanket Set that Banas brings to further insulate herself from airplane chill. The kit, which costs about $20, includes a fleece blanket, pillowcase, and eye mask.

Similarly, Zak Patten, a senior editor, always makes sure to board with his REI fleece hoodie. The soft, versatile garment has multiple features that make it an ideal flight companion: “The hood both keeps my head warm and can serve as a sleep mask if I pull it down over my eyes. I like the front pockets as a place to tuck my hands away for warmth. I also appreciate this sweatshirt when I’m traveling because I wear it so much in my regular life that I feel at home whenever I’m in it.” Unfortunately, this hoodie isn’t available anymore through REI, but Patagonia (M’s Micro D-Luxe® Hoody) makes a similar product, which costs $76.

Contributing Editor Jessica Labrencis packs comfort and style into a single item with the soft pashmina she wears as a scarf onto the plane. She can use it as a blanket during flights, and arrive accessorized to boot. “It looks cute and by bringing it, I can avoid using the grungy plane blankets.” For both men and women, she recommends bringing some kind of larger scarf to manage the onboard chill. And, she adds, “It’s nice to have something of your own to cuddle up with.” Early winter is a great time to find pashminas and scarves at clothing stores or online. Prices vary, but the general rule is, the softer it is, the more expensive it will be.

Associate Editor Molly Feltner’s carry-on comfort item fits in her pocket. She says, “I always bring ear plugs to prevent me from going nuts if I’m sitting near a crying baby or even someone with a sniffly nose.” She uses Mack’s Safe Sound Foam Earplugs, cutting them in half before putting them in her ears, so that the sound is blocked but they’re more discreet. The earplugs are available at many drugstores, and cost about $5 for a pack of 10 pairs.

Mental comfort

For some, mental distraction goes farther than physical comfort. Immersing yourself in another world can make the roar of the engine and that person kicking the back of your seat fade into the background.

Sarah Pascarella, another associate editor, admits to seeking out magazines she wouldn’t subscribe to at home as a treat that offers soothing distraction during flights. She recommends bulkier magazines such as O, The Oprah Magazine or InStyle primarily to women travelers who “want a distraction without feeling like they’re buying a trashy tabloid, but don’t feel like spending a few hours reading a novel or nonfiction book.” If you’re looking to give a travel kit to someone who will travel home for the holidays, consider including a magazine that’s fun but substantial.

Senior Producer Tobin Streett whiles away the hours of flights by watching DVDs on his laptop. He makes sure to charge the battery before he leaves so that he’s got enough juice to watch a full-length movie and a few half-hour comedy episodes. More than just a way to pass the time, he says, “I choose what to take with me based entirely on how I’d like to feel when I step off the plane, meaning well-rested and in a good mood. DVDs keep my mood up.” And, since Netflix charges no late fees, traveling with movies costs only as much as his monthly subscription fee. Netflix offers gift subscriptions as well, starting from $18.

Contributing Editor Erica Silverstein laments that, “I’m rarely comfortable on planes, so I don’t bother taking anything to increase my physical comfort because it won’t make a difference.” However, she flies enough on a single airline to have earned elite status, which gives her opportunities to book exit-row seats in advance and even score the occasional upgrade to first class. It’s a comfort item because, she says, “Extra space is the only thing that makes me more physically comfortable on a plane.”

Flyers with a lot of extra miles can consider giving miles as gifts. It’s a tricky process, but can be done. Tim Winship has advice about sharing award tickets.

Holiday travel adds extra stress to the usual travel challenges. Whether you improve your own travel experience this winter or make someone else’s journey a little better, here’s wishing you a comfy holiday travel season.

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