Plane Travels Can Be Productive: 4 Ways To Get The Work Done During a Flight

Whether you’re a frequent flyer or you only board a plane every few years you’ll know that the span of time between the thrill of takeoff and the anticipation is pretty dull. These days many planes have personal televisions, but if you’re not willing to fork out $10 to watch a film that you’ve probably already seen three times you’re out of luck.

If this sounds like you, it’s time to get productive. When you’re on a plane you are out of contact with the world below. There’s nobody there to distract you other than the guy coughing next to you, but even then you can pop in your headphones and be alone. With so little distractions, planes are undoubtedly one of the best places to get work done – even better than trendy coffee shops (who can help but stare at the baristas making coffee?) or even your home (who can get anything done with a family that’s so distracting?).

Looking for some things that you can get out of the way on your next flight? Here are some ideas from the plane-productivity experts:


I have trouble reading on land for a number of reasons. When I try reading in public I get too distracted by all of the people passing by and interacting around me. When I try reading at home I get too distracted by all of the things that I have to do around the house. That’s why airplanes are the best place to catch up on reading– there’s never anything terribly interesting going on around you and you have literally nowhere else to go other than your seat.

I get my fastest reading one on airplanes. What would take me an hour to read on land will take me 15 minutes in the air. It’s also easier to comprehend texts on planes because it’s easier to focus on the book in your hand rather than the things around you. For this reason, planes are a particularly great place to read school books or something for work.

Be careful of what you’re reading on an airplane though, as sometimes the people around you might use your book as a topic for small talk. One time when I was on an airplane I brought a book along that had a swear word for it’s title and the elderly woman next to me asked me what my book was called. It was awkward to say the least!


As a writer, I often find myself needing to spend my flights (wait for it) writing. And a plane is actually one of the most perfect environments for writing, especially if you’re on a no-WiFi flight. First, if there’s no wifi, it’s harder to distract yourself. As an added precaution, make sure your laptop doesn’t have any games installed that you can use in-flight—bye bye, Solitaire. A cheap, light-weight laptop like a Chromebook or another ultrabook is useful for this sort of thing because you can keep your games and whatnot at home while having a work-centric laptop that fits nicely in your carryon.

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The second major reason why the plane is perfect for writing is that it really isn’t that comfortable on an airplane. You can’t recline far, you can’t lean over, you can’t get up to stretch your legs—you’re basically stuck in an upright and working position. Might as well put that fact to use, and take out the tray table and get writing.

And really, if you want to be hard-core about it, ditch the laptop completely and just bring paper and a pen. You might not write as fast, but it will be a nice break from the modern laptop era, and who doesn’t love seeing their yellow legal pad or the Moleskin journal fill up, whether you’re filling it with a future blog post, modernist poetry, or a technical journal article? But whatever the medium and whatever the genre, flights are an ideal time to catch up on all the writing you have on your to-do list.


Because I end up having to fly fairly often, I like to have different sets of activities for different lengths of flights. For short flights, I find that work requiring a laptop (or even a phone or tablet) can be too much: by the time you’re allowed to boot things up and get down to work, it feels like you’re being asked to shut things down again. What to do on these short flights?

Brainstorm. For myself, I often brainstorm story ideas (for instance: things to do on airplanes!) but if you aren’t a writer, there’s always something. What home redecoration projects do you have coming up, and what order should you do them? Maybe you’re in that time of your life that you need good kids names? Is it time to write that novel you’ve always meant to get around to? Well, you won’t get the writing finished on short plane, but you can surely get some concepts, characters, and scenes brainstormed.

Brainstorming is a great plane activity for another reason too, namely that it’s a light-weight activity. All you really need is your mind, and a pen with a pad of paper to make sure you don’t forget any of your insights. Pull them out next time you’re on a plane, and get your brain a-storming! Best of all, pulling out an empty pad of paper is good incentive to get a lot of ideas in: if your seat-mates are watching, you’ll need to fill up the pad quickly or risk looking silly. But since filling the pad is the goal, it’s a win-win scenario.

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By far my favorite thing to catch up on when I fly is sleep. Think about it, it’s one of the only times that you both have nothing to do and nobody can get in contact with you at the same time. Especially for early morning and late night flights, sleeping can be a very productive use of your flight time. Even an afternoon nap can be great for ensuring that you’ll be bright eyed when you arrive.

Many people can’t fall asleep on planes because they’re afraid of being watched by the people around them. I deal with this by telling myself I’ll never see them again and throwing a blanket over my head. The blanket technique is great because you don’t have to see anyone around you, even if you wake up abruptly. Bring headphones and soothing music as well to tune out the people around you and the whirring of the engine.

No matter what you have to get done, if it can logistically be done on an airplane (without disturbing the people around you) it’s a great idea to go ahead and use the time that you’re between your departure and arrival gates to focus on getting it done.

What’s your favorite activity to do on planes? Let us know in the comments!


Category: Careers, Travel

One Comment »

  • Teena in Toronto says:

    Depending on the flight, I watch in-house new movies (I watched “We’re the Millers” on a flight from Saskatoon to Toronto on Sunday … it was better than I expected). But usually I read (I love to read!).

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