Create your own airplane travel kit with in-flight essentials, and you will have an easy-to-handle bag that saves time and stress on every flight. I keep these flight essentials ready to go, in a separate bag I call my Airplane Success Kit.
My in-flight travel kit includes items I will likely use at my seat, during the flight. These travel packing essentials are also useful once I reach my hotel, cruise, Airbnb, or other destination.
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There are three big advantages to packing airplane essentials in a separate airplane travel kit:
- Saves time at home preparing for your trip. Just grab your pre-packed kit of in-flight essentials and put it in your carry-on bag. When you return home, recharge any items that need it, and put them back in the kit ready for your next flight.
- Saves time and hassle when you board your flight. There is nothing relaxing about boarding today’s over-crowded flights. Everyone is jockeying for overhead space and you do not want to be the person who holds up the line. When I reach my airline seat, I grab my airplane travel kit and water bottle and I am in my seat.
- No need to access your larger carry-on bag during flight. It is so annoying to get settled and buckled in, only to realize you need something from your larger bag. Then you have to hop up and dig things out of the overhead compartment, or wrestle with the bag wedged under the seat in front of you. Easy access to your airplane essentials is especially nice when you are in a window or middle seat with limited space and no overhead access.
Airplane Essentials: What to Include in Your Airplane Travel Kit
My list of carry-on essentials for the plane includes must-pack items that are always in my Airplane Success Kit. A convenient shopping and packing list is included below.
BOSE Noise-cancelling Headphones
My BOSE noise-cancelling headphones are the best travel splurge I ever purchased. I have the earbud wired version, but BOSE also offers over-ear options. Keep in mind that the over-ear headphones are going to take a lot more space in your kit. It is incredible how much of the background noise these headphones cancel out—crying babies, loud talkers, snoring seat-mates. You do not even have to plug these headphones into a device to get noise-blocking benefits. Just put in the earplugs, turn them on, and the noise dims. The sound quality is excellent. Use them with your smartphone, tablet, or computer to watch movies, listen to music, or play your favorite white noise or meditation app.
Reading Glasses or Cheaters
If you are of a certain age, like me, you may need a pair of reading glasses for reading on the plane. On my last flight, I broke mine out to read on-screen text at the end of a movie I watched on my iPhone.
Eye Mask and Ear Plugs
I spent two years using the skimpy eye masks handed out on International flights before finally buying my own. Silly me. A nice silky eye mask makes all the difference when you are trying to catch a nap during flight or in your hotel room. The same is true for ear plugs. Buy soft travel ear plugs and do not rely on the freebies you pick up along the way.
Phone Plug and Cord
Some planes have outlets or USB ports at each seat. Include a small phone charger and cord in your Airplane Travel Kit to keep your phone or tablet charged while you watch movies or play games during flight. If you are traveling with someone you could bring a 2-cord charger, but remember your goal is to keep things in your flight essentials kit small. Probably better to have each traveler take their own small charger.
Portable Device Charger
If your airplane seat does not have an outlet, you can use a portable charger as a back-up. Look for a lipstick-size portable charger. Avoid chargers with external power buttons that might get accidentally turned on when it is in your essentials kit.
Smaller Airplane Essentials for Use In Flight
I pack a mini-kit of several essentials that I may need during flight. My airplane essentials mini-kit is in an 8 x 5 inch zippered mesh bag. A plastic baggie would do in a pinch, but a zippered mesh is sturdier. Pack the mini-kit with small items that you do not want floating around or falling out of the bigger blag. This is what I pack in my flight essentials mini-kit:
- Antibacterial Wipes: Wipes are better than liquid because you can use them to clean your tray table, arm rests, etc. Ideally, get ones that are individually packaged so they will not dry out between flights. Save the ones you get at restaurants and hotels for your next flight.
- Cleaning and Makeup Remover Wipes: Handy for a quick refresher during or after your flight (even if you do not wear make-up).
- Travel toothbrush and toothpaste and floss: I carry a tiny red container of toothpaste and skinny toothbrush that I got on an international flight. When it gives out I am going to buy the Dr. Plotka travel toothbrush my husband uses. Avoid disposable toothbrush options, the planet does not need more trash.
- Lip Balm: I like Softlips because it is extra-skinny but any lip balm will do. Those airplane cabins are so dry!
- Kleenex: The smaller Kleenex travel pack you can find the better.
- Cough drops or hard candies: Sucking on a hard candy during descent can help offset ear pressure. If you are congested when you fly, take a small nasal spray to use before descent. Be sure it is under 3 ounces (100 ml) and packed with your fluids when you go through security.
- Throw in a bandaid and a few Immodium, Pepcid, and GasX and you will be prepared for minor in-flight emergencies. Add ear plugs if you do not have headphones.
- Include a small comb and/or brush and a hair tie if you use them.
- Pen and pencil: That in-flight crossword puzzle might need some attention.
- Priority Pass card, which gives travelers access to select airport lounges. You do not need the pass during flight, but since you only use it at airports, this is a handy place to keep it. We get the Priority Pass free with our Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card.
Large Silk Scarf
You may want to include a lightweight scarf or pashmina that can double as a blanket on your flight. If you are flying overnight, the airline will provide a blanket. I generally include a scarf in my airplane travel kit only if I am going to need it at my destination.
Book, Tablet or Reader
I generally take an old-school print book on flights (Bill Bryson is a travel favorite). Substitute your iPad or favorite tablet if you prefer digital.
Are snacks really a travel essential? For me they are! That tiny airline bag of dry pretzels is not going to get me through most flights. There is always room in an Airplane Success Kit for a little trail mix, granola bar, or other small snack. Sadly, I keep chocolate to a minimum in my kit because I like to include things that do not melt. If you decide not to eat during the flight, long-lasting snacks will not need to be unpacked before the next trip.
Credit Card and Cell Phone
I usually move these from my purse to my in-flight success kit just before boarding. The credit card is handy if you decide to purchase food or a drink during your flight. And we always need our cell phones, right? It is handy for entertainment, white noise, and getting in touch with folks during that seemingly endless time between landing and deplaning.
Refillable Water Bottle
A refillable water bottle will not fit inside your kit, but it is definitely a travel essential. I really like the pop-up spout on my Contigo water bottle. The hubs prefers the LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle, which has a built-in filter so you can use it even where water quality is poor. Add a couple of reusable metal straws so you can avoid disposable plastic ones.
In most countries there is just no reason to buy bottled water. Bring your own bottle to stay hydrated and help the planet. See our Tips for Organizing Your Gear below for ideas on what to do with your bottle in-flight.
More Carry-on Essentials for Overseas Flights and Long-Haul Flights
Your air travel kit may change a bit when you are packing airplane essentials for long-haul and overnight flights. International travel essentials are very similar with a couple of important additions.
- Add your passport and any required travel documents (i.e. Visas) to your in-flight kit when you are packing carry-on essentials for overseas flights. You may need that passport info to fill out country entry documents.
- You could add an International Travel Adapter if you will be flying on non-US airlines, but they can be bulky and many planes have USB ports at each seat. Better to leave the adapter in your carry0on bag and rely on your backup charger if needed.
- Bring a neck pillow if you are traveling overnight or on a long flight. Your pillow will not fit in your air travel kit, so remember to grab it from your carry-on when you get to your seat. I have a great Cloudz Neck Pillow with a snap that makes it easy to hang off of my back-pack. It does not take up room inside my carry-on, and I can grab it quickly once I reach my seat.
Packing Your Air Travel Essentials: 3 Steps to Airplane Success Kit Travel Happiness
I use an expandable 8 x 10-inch packing cube for my airplane travel kit. It has a mesh front so it is easy to see items. There are two zippers. One zipper opens the bag on 3 sides. The second zipper expands the bag. so you can fit more inside. I cannot find the exact bag online but this TravelSmith Packing Cube is pretty close. To pack the kit:
- Unzip the expander zipper and add scarf and book or tablet.
- Add all other items on top of the book and close main zipper.
- Close expander zipper to make the bag as small as possible.
Voila! Your bag is packed and you are ready to fly.
Airplane Travel Kit Packing and Shopping List
Here is a handy packing and shopping list for your airplane essentials.
- TravelSmith Packing Cube
- BOSE noise-cancelling headphones, earbud wired BOSE headphones, or over-ear BOSE headphones
- Reading glasses or prescription glasses
- iPhone or other mobile phone
- Silky eye mask
- Travel ear plugs
- Phone charger and cord
- Lipstick-size portable charger
- Zippered mesh bag (or plastic baggie)
- Antibacterial Wipes
- Cleaning and Makeup Remover Wipes
- Travel toothbrush and toothpaste and floss
- Dr. Plotka travel toothbrush
- Softlips or other lip balm
- Kleenex travel pack
- Cough drops or hard candies
- Small nasal spray to use before descent if you are congested
- Bandaids, Immodium, Pepcid, and GasX (a few of each)
- Small comb, brush, hair tie
- Pen and pencil
- Priority Pass card (free with Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card)
- Book, iPad, Kindle
- Trail mix, granola bar, or other small snack
- More In-Flight Travel Essentials
- Contigo water bottle, LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle or other refillable water bottle
- Reusable metal straws
- Passport and any required travel documents (i.e. Visas)
- International Travel Adapter
- Cloudz Neck Pillow
More Tips for Organizing Your Gear During Flight
In the good old days, seat pockets were pretty roomy and could easily fit your Airplane Success Kit. If the seat pocket is too skimpy on your flight, prop the bag on the floor (hold on to it during take-off and landing).
I use my kit as a platform for my phone when I watch movies during flight. Put your tray table down (once in flight), put the airline magazine on it, then put the success kit on top. Shift the items inside around until your phone is balanced for movie watching. This works even better if you have a PopSocket on your phone case.
Here are two tips for managing your water bottle during flight:
- Loosen the cap of your water bottle before you take off. If the cap is tight, pressure will build during the plane’s ascent. When you open your bottle at elevation, the water will spray out and give you a surprise soak.
- Since your cap is loose, it is essential to keep the bottle upright so it does not leak. Keep your water bottle upright by putting it inside your shoe. If you do not want to take off your shoes, try to wedge the bottle between a seat support and your kit.
As a travel writer, I am a very frequent flyer. I am also devoted to carry-on only travel and to reducing the stress of flying. I have developed my Airplane Success Kit strategy over time, adjusting any time I found myself missing something during flight. Your list of essentials may be different from mine, but anyone can use this strategy for packing travel essentials for the plane. If you fly with children, you might want to create airplane travel kits for each of them as well.
What did we miss? Please share your inflight essentials tips in the comments below. Whatever you include in your air travel kit, we wish you happy travel on every flight.
The Airplane Success Kit name was inspired by our friends at Visit Lake Charles. When they host media visits, they carry a success kit in the van to handle unexpected emergencies. Consider a visit to Lake Charles for their family-friendly Mardi Gras (second largest Mardi Gras in Louisiana), the fun-filled Louisiana Pirate Festival, or to relax at the L’Auberge Casino Resort.
Article by Julie McCool, whose Northern Virginia travel site FuninFairfaxVA.com helps locals and visitors find fun places to explore, dine, drink, and play in the Virginia, Washington DC, and mid-Atlantic area.
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Travel Essentials for the Plane: Build Your Own Airplane Success Kit was originally published on McCool Travel on 18 Oct 2018 and updated in 2019.
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