What Do You Need At Your Seat?

Airplane interior On a long-distance air journey, you have to balance the need to keep yourself entertained with not crowding out your limited space. What's on the essential list for stuff to keep at your seat during a flight?

We've spent a lot of time at Lifehacker looking at minimal packing strategies, particularly with the recent Hand Luggage Only extravaganza. However, there's one issue we haven't generally touched on much: the question of how much luggage you actually need within reach (that is, in the seat pocket or under the seat in front of you) when you're making an international journey.

That might seem like a pretty straightforward decision, but depending on your in-air habits, it can be quite an important one. A colleague recently complained that a well-packed carry-on bag was likely to cause major shoulder damage, since he constantly found himself getting up and down to remove stuff from his bag during the flight, and that necessitated lifting the bag in and out of the overhead bin each time. (Even assuming your muscles are up to the task, you risk getting decked by a fellow passenger if you're not already seated on the aisles and you insist on jumping up.)

For the sake of this discussion, I'm assuming an economy seat — in business or above, you've got much more room to stow stuff, and far less likelihood of annoying a fellow passenger if you do move around.

What I want at my seat for longer flights is actually fairly minimal. I favour window seats, and I generally don't get up during the flight at all, so I want only the bare of minimum of stuff cramping my style. I like to restrict whatever I've got to something that can easily fit into a long-handled cloth bag, which I can tie shut and stash under the seat while I sleep, and fold up and store if I'm not using it. What I usually stow in there is:

  • A pen, my wallet, travel documents. All self-evident, except perhaps the wallet: easier to sleep without it in my pocket.
  • A newspaper and some Sudoku puzzles. In-flight reading is essential, but a thick book takes up too much space, and I can't easily dispose of it at the other end. If I demolish the newspaper, I can dispose of it in a recycling bin and pick up another during the stopover. For the puzzles, a pencil with an eraser attached is essential.
  • My BlackBerry. On domestic flights, I often stash my laptop under the seat and do some work, but on longer flights, it's easier just to use the BlackBerry if I want to write or organise, and save the battery life on the laptop for airport stops. That might change as Qantas gets more on-board power options in economy via the A380, but I still figure that'll be a while.
  • An iPod Touch. I'll always take advantage of in-flight entertainment if it's reasonable, but the Touch is a good backup if it's not — or during one of the inevitable reboots. I also carry an adaptor to use the iPod earphones with the in-flight system, since I find it less wearing on my lobes.

In my pocket at all times, I usually have my passport and a backup drive containing my key work PC backup, for the unlikely event that I'm forced to evacuate the plane. Hasn't happened, statistically probably won't happen, but it's no big sacrifice to carry it even when I'm asleep. If I wasn't good at sleeping on planes, I imagine this list would be rather different and longer, but I'm lucky (or perhaps just pig-headed) in that respect.

Anyway, that's my version. What's your own approach to at-seat luggage? Share your wisdom in the comments.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is grateful that his bladder behaves on long flights. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


    Most of my flights are long haul and I prefer aisle seats, so it's not a drama to get stuff from overhead, but I have noticed the bins these days are getting fuller and fuller, so often my bag is not in easy reach. I usually wear a light shell jacket with heaps of pockets. In this jacket I generally carry the following: passport, travel documents, headphones, neat little adapter that converts aircraft two pin audio sockets to a single socket for headphones, iPhone (again great for movies, podcasts, music etc), business card holder - to sit the iPod in on the fold down table, ibuprofen tablets in the neat little pill bottle (for quelling developing headaches before they drive me mad), a 4,800 mAh charger and cable for the iphone and a pen for filling out customs forms.

    just my ass. escape the world for a while. it will still be there when you get back.

    My List
    -Noise cancelling over ear headphones
    -PSP - For Music + Games
    -Pen - For immigration/customs papers
    -Passport - Leave in my pocket
    -Mentos - For take-off n landing

    This is generally what I take, leaving the passport at home when on domestic flights.

    Before I travel, I generally print out some of the articles I was supposed to read but never got around to. I take these and throw them away as I finish reading them so that I reduce what I am carrying. You could take a ebook reader, but I find that to be small.

    I don't get to fly nearly as much as I'd like but when I do I make sure I have a pen, travel documents, a good book, reading glasses and my iPod. That pretty much does it for me.

    The rest of my carry on luggage is safely tucked away in the overhead locker but I generally don't need anything from my carry on bag until I reach my destination.

    My list is pretty similar to yours. One difference though, is that I always request an aisle seat so that I can get up very easily. I'm not a big fan of sitting still in a tiny seat for a long time.

    - Book (can't stand reading newspapers in a tiny seat)
    - iPhone for games and music
    - Noise cancelling headphones
    - Laptop - stowed overhead and grabbed at some stage during the flight
    - Miscellaneous junk (passport, wallet, etc).
    - And the most useful one for long haul - Travelcalm. I don't get sick, but those tablets put me out like a light and they're available over the counter. Long haul in economy sucks, the more sleep you get the better.

    large bottle of water
    1 x magazine
    iPhone set to Airplane mode
    couple of health bars/muesli bars

    Good question. This is why I always take the aisle seat, because I can be constantly up and down grabbing stuff from my cabin piece.

    What I always have with me or the first thing I unpack when I get to my seat- my noise cancelling headphones. They're packed in a small string tie pouch that I can easily grab from one of my luggage's pockets. Small enough to slip into the seat pocket in front of me. My PSP or PMP is in the bum bag I wear, and that goes up in the overhead bin.

    If I am flying domestically I usually carry on some food and drink and that goes either on my lap, in the seat pocket or at my feet, in a plastic bag, to keep it clean.

    Internationally you need your documentation nearby, but I always leave them in one of the pockets on my luggage, except my passport number and a pen, which I have somewhere on my body.

    If it ends up the seat next to mine is free, I usually deposit the cabin luggage in the overhead bin under that spare seat's leg room.

    The travel documents (passport/tix) are a given. They always live in my pocket (not in my bag) for the unlikely event that I'm required to leave the plane without my bag.

    I do take a newspaper, but it's always folded down small to the cryptic crossword. And use a pen, people. Letters only go in the boxes when you're SURE. And I don't like disposable books, so I'm more than happy to take a bulky paperback and carry it around with me. I also don't own an elaborate mp3 player, so I tend to just go with what's on offer in-flight. And the last thing that's always within reach, is my Rubik's Cube. Nerdy, I know. But I can while away hours working on linear fewest move challenges, or maybe learning a few new algorithms. Plus, I've won a few snacks off the Virgin attendants when they don't think it's possible to solve a cube in under thirty seconds.

    My girlfriend, so i can play with her when ever i get bored!!
    Oh and my HTC dream, i'm the only person to comment on here so far with a different phone other then an iphone you sheepish sheepish people!

    I go for the window seat myself, i still get up for the toilet and overhead compartment often enough with a bit of squeezing, but it has the advantage that no one is ever trying to get past me when im having my quiet time or trying to sleep.

    Noise cancelling headphones are a gimmick. Canalphones offer better noise-rejection (look up the specs) and are generally better value (no expensive electronics, the noise-cancelling is built-in). The only reason to go noise-cancelling headphones is if you find canalphones uncomfortable.

    I'm on about 20-25 international flights a year, with about 60% in business class and 40% in economy.

    in business class, i'm not too fussed as long as i've packed what i need for the trip since most business class has avod systems and provide noise-cancelling headsets for each passenger.

    economy class travel breaks down into several categories.

    if it's an overnight flight with avod in economy, i make sure i'm on the window seat (to lean against) and i just sleep with my noise cancelling headphones on.

    if it's an overnight flight without avod in economy, i do the same as above, but place a book in the seat back pocket

    if it's a day flight, i get the aisle seat with one exception - the new A380s. if i'm flying on the new a380 economy, i book for a window seat in the upper deck as there are good sized storage bins under the windows which also provide extra armrest space.

    with daytime economy flights that have avod, i'm not too fussed about bringing my own entertainment as there's hours of stuff to watch and listen to.

    but when i'm flying economy with airlines that don't provide avods in economy (united...arghhh!!!!), I load up my ipod classic with movies to watch, and also put my notebook computer in the seat-back pocket to get some work done if i really get bored.

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