9 Productive Things To Do On A Plane (Besides Sleep)

Need a few ideas for productively managing your time on a flight?

Have you ever gotten bored on a flight? Frustrated by delays on the tarmac? Sometimes it just feels like wasted time. If you’re on a short commuter flight, by all means, my number one recommendation is to take a nap! But on longer flights, you can have your nap and be productive too. On my last cross country flight, I put my time to good use.


Here are 9 ways to stay productive on a flight:

1. Write Thank You Notes (or Postcards)

Seriously. When was the last time you got a handwritten thank you note? If that’s not your thing, how about writing a thank you email, a postcard or a letter. If you’re into buying souvenirs, pretty stationary or postcards from your trip destination work well. Thank you’s to the pet sitter or house sitter or babysitter perhaps? Is there someone you’ve been meaning to thank? If you’re like my husband, an email or text is plenty.


2. Catch Up On Email (That You’ve Been Avoiding)

Speaking of sending email, it’s a good time to tackle your inbox. You don’t need onboard WI-FI to write emails (but you won’t be able to send them without connectivity). Just make sure they auto-send once you connect again. How many emails are in your inbox that you actually do need to give a thoughtful response to? This is a great time to give them the thorough attention they deserve. Or…catch up on cleaning out your inbox with a mass purge.


3. Yoga

Okay, you probably don’t want to be THAT person bumping into the flight attendants in the galley busting out a full Warrior 2, but there are several yoga pose variations that you can do in your seat that will help with avoiding stiffness while increasing circulation. Your muscles will want to write you a thank you note. (Also, don’t forget to pack a neck pillow because you can use it to sit on, relieving pressure on your tailbone. Particularly helpful for sciatica pain.) Holy cow, there are several book about “Airplane Yoga” – talk about a niche literary market…

Here are a few unobtrusive seated yoga poses you can do even in an economy middle seat and then throw in these 7 poses.

My top yoga inspired moves from the “comfort” of Economy Class include:

  • Yogic Breathing – there are many options here, but the basic breathing that I do is a slower, controlled breath in and out through the nose. Fill the belly completely and slowly and fully exhale. Repeat. It’s very calming.
  • Foot across knee (alternate sides) – start by sitting upright with good posture with both feet pressed into the floor. Pick up your right foot and ankle and stack them just above your left kneecap (don’t put any pressure on the kneecap itself). That might be enough of a stretch right there (or too much, listen to your body), but if you’d like to go deeper, slowly lean your torso toward your knee. Stay for a few breaths and then unwind and switch sides.
  • Neck side to side – slowly drop your left ear toward your left shoulder, feeling the stretch along the right side of the neck and the upper trapezius. After 5 or more breaths, slowly and carefully switch sides. Repeat on the other side.

Do not be this person though…because, you know, boundaries.


4. Talk to Strangers

You never know if you’re sitting next to someone fascinating unless you strike up a conversation. If they put their headphones on, it means stop. If you need a break from talking, say something along the lines of “that’s awesome, I gotta finish listening to this podcast for work”.

Need inspiration? No judgment here. I’m a true introvert, friendly but totally introverted. Check out TED Talks “10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation

On my last cross country flight, I helped the couple next to me who were flying from Salt Lake City to New York, connecting to a Paris flight and then connecting again to Tehran, Iran. They had limited English and couldn’t understand the announcements. They needed assistance looking up information for their next flight which evolved into an interesting conversation that ended when we disembarked and the Iranian woman with no English gave me a hug. I got a little international love on a domestic flight.


5. Meditate

If it’s not the right moment to get social and connect to your fellow travelers, then connect with yourself. Slow down and chill. I love short meditations on a plane. Either when I’m trying to nap or if I just want it to look like I’m napping so I can go inward. Sometimes I get travel anxiety and deep belly breathing (yogic breathing) combined with counting the in and out breaths works magic to melt away stress.

If you’d prefer a guided meditation or meditative music, use your noise-cancelling headphones and allow the sounds to carry you deeper into a place of stillness.


6. Listen to Podcasts or Audio Books

Catch up on podcasts that you’ve been meaning to listen to or delve five chapters deep into an audiobook. Just make sure beforehand that it’s downloaded to your device so you won’t need WIFI connectivity. Wrap up in a pashmina or travel blanket and settle in for some auditory entertainment.

what to do on a plane


7. Watch Foreign Films and/or Indie Films

You’re stuck on a plane so you might as well add some culture to your experience. Order a plastic cup of $9 wine and put your feet up on your homemade foot rest (see my trick on using a backpack as a foot rest) and be fancy. Or you can watch Captain America Civil War like I did. In my defense, I followed my Marvel movie with Barista, an indie documentary about the national coffee championships while sipping Delta’s inflight Starbucks.



Make a MacGuyver Style Footrest: I bring a carry-on suitcase and a hardback backpack that’s big enough to fit both my ginormous laptop and my medium-sized purse BUT that still fits completely under the seat in front of me. Once I’m situated, I slip off my shoes and use the backpack as a foot rest.


8. Read Fiction

Fiction is a way to get transported (Ha. See what I did there? ). I tend to work too much and only read non-fiction, so when I’m traveling or on vacation, I bring a book that I’ve been wanting to read. Not a book that I’ve been meaning to read, but a book that I’ve been wanting to read including books with very little redeeming value. (Anyone else a Stephanie Plum fan?) I often only allow myself the luxury of reading a novel from cover to cover when I’m on vacation. Gripping non-fiction totally works too.

Have a few recommendations for thrilling vacation reads? Let’s hear ’em in the comments below!

Good Reads has dozens of book recommendation lists for travelers.


9. Make Lists and/or Journal

I’ve been known to complete shopping lists, Christmas shopping lists, and massive To Do lists while on flights. It keeps my mind occupied. And of course, you can make lists such as this one. 😉

Also, if you’re organized before your trip, you can use a handy (and cheap) packing list rather than building one from scratch.




How do I stay productive? Let me count the ways.
How do I stay productive? Let me count the ways.


How do you use your time on a plane? Sleep? Snack? Play on your phone? All of the above?


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