While I was totally not thrilled when I recently got stuck on a flight that was delayed for 23 hours, my natural paranoia meant that I actually had plenty to keep me occupied while I was waiting. Whether you're just looking to fill in time during multi-hour overseas flight, or you want to be prepared for the next time a missing flange grounds everybody, here's the tactics I use to make sure there's something to stop me staring idly into space without having to overload my hand luggage. I quite literally never board a plane without a notebook computer, of course, but I'm not going to look at the work and entertainment possibilities that offers this time around, other than reiterating the the importance of being civil when it comes to sharing scarce airport power points. And with that said, unless you're lucky to be on the right kind of plane, you'll run out of power eventually. For another, all work and no play makes Gus a dull boy. And you'll need something to occupy you during the "no electronic devices" take off and landing phases anyway. I've also refrained from discussing in-flight entertainment systems; I use these a lot, but their availability varies hugely by airline, and occasionally you'll get one that's supposed to have in-seat entertainment but which can't get the damn system to work.
Stock up on reading material, but favour magazines
When I first started heading overseas on a regular basis, I used to purchase myself the thickest book I could find to read when I wasn't tempted by the in-flight movies. While this isn't a terrible tactic, I abandoned it in favour of reading magazines and papers that I purchased at the airport (or grabbed lying around in the departure lounge or Qantas Club). For me, these have several advantages:
- You can dive around from article to article — if the book you've chosen doesn't turn out to engage you, you don't have any other alternative.
- You can dump them when they're done, cutting down on what you have to carry around.
- You can shove a magazine in a seat-back pocket and still stretch out, something which simply doesn't work with a blockbuster novel.
Load up that iPod touch
As soon as the all-clear for using electronic devices comes on any flight, you can hear the sound of dozens of iPod earbuds being unleashed. The iPod (and other MP3 players) provide an entertainment option that's portable, can provide you with hours of entertainment, and can usually handle an Australia-to-Europe flight without running out of power. Add some video capabilities and you're well and truly set, especially in the airport waiting lounge where alternative options are likely to be severely lacking. My own favoured iPod content (and the approach that helped me through my recent 23-hour French layover) is episodes of popular sitcoms, ripped from DVD using DVD Shrink and resized to iPod specifications using Handbrake. Just remember to fully charge your device the night before you leave home. (I'm not a gamer, but the Nintendo DS or PSP obviously fulfil a similar role, albeit in a way that can be more distracting to the person on the seat next to you.)
Embrace your inner Sudoku nerd
A small volume of Sudoku (or crosswords, or whatever puzzle you favour), a pencil with an eraser on the end and a pencil sharpener are all you need to fill in countless airborne hours. I like Killer Sudoku because of the extra mathematical challenge, but your own enthusiasm is more important than the puzzle type. I once flew from London to the Orkney Islands (a three plane sequence of hops) with just a volume of Sudoku for onboard amusement, thereby minimising my carry-on, and it worked out beautifully, though I was mildly covered with eraser shavings at the other end. And you can always claim to be indulging in "brain training".
Of course, these are just my solutions; there's bound to be plenty of other compact ways of keeping yourself amused in the air or on the ground, so tell us what works for you in the comments. Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman also likes in-flight magazines, but that's only a useful option on the first flight for each month. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.