5 Tips & Tricks to Remain Productive While Flying

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Having logged over 160,000 miles in the sky last year, I've learned several techniques to help me stay productive even while traveling. Moving beyond "use the inflight wi-fi," here are five practical techniques a working traveler can practice to stay productive, whether at the airport or in the air... 

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Not sure how to maximize productivity during your next flight? Take a gander at these tips:

  1. Do Your Homework. This is going to sound incredibly nerdy, but researching the seat pitch (the indication of legroom and workspace) before booking a flight is vital information. Certain airlines are known for their stinginess, with the average Economy class at 30 to 32 inches, while other carriers are known for their largesse. Even within the same airline the seat pitch can differ between plane models (and yes, also seat by seat). I recommend using Seat Guru for comparing the available flights to decide whether paying for additional leg space is worth it. 

  2. Be Loyal. If you fly more than a few times a year, it might just be worthwhile to stick with the airline offering the most benefits. Because I did most of my flying with the same airline last year, I earned inexpensive lounge access (a lifesaver!), preferred seating (with more legroom and more space to work), expedited security, upgrades, and even occasionally free wi-fi. At times I did not save money by sticking with the same airline for particular flights, but the earned benefits made it well worth it, with all of the perks adding up to a more productive and comfortable flying experience. 

  3. Buy Before You Fly. If you plan to work during the flight and require online access, purchase wi-fi access while on the ground. It's often cheaper to purchase before the flight, and it's a great opportunity to determine if a monthly traveler pass is worthwhile for your traveling needs. 

  4. Lounges Are Your Best Friend. If your frequent flier status doesn't grant you access to a premium lounge, your credit card just might. If neither of those work, make a judgement call about whether or not the day pass is worth it. I generally find they aren't unless I'm on deadline, but the yearly memberships are a great investment for those who fly frequently.

    The lounges vary in quality and amenities; generally all share at least some free food, ample workspaces, power outlets and free internet, making them ideal places to work from. Some lounges even have conference rooms where teams can meet and plan while waiting for flights, as well as other desirable luxuries like complimentary spa treatments, showers, and nap rooms.

    Trying to get work done in a noisy, often crowded airport is an exercise in futility, but in the lounge this is not the case. While I wish all lounges were quiet, there are some where children are permitted; this is where a great pair of headphones can come in handy. Just note, noise cancelling is not the way to go in the terminal, so turn it off while waiting and working in a lounge, so as not to miss important announcements.
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  6. Pack for Productivity. As someone who almost never checks-in a bag and travels with a small international wheeled carry-on with an under-the-seat laptop bag, I've learned to pack efficiently. I've used this two bag combination for trips as long as 2 weeks, packing for productivity. Packing for productivity means you've chosen and packed your 2nd item (the personal item/ under the seat bag) with everything normally required for keeping your devices charged, connected, and organized for easy access. In my case, I fit my laptop, tablet(s), a pad of paper, a pouch containing IDs/credit cards, pens, pencil, a bottle of water, snacks, and noise cancelling headphones all inside of a lightweight bag that goes inside this 2nd item bag

    The Bag-in-a-Bag Trick: The laptop is placed in a hardshell case, which goes into a sleeve with handles, which then goes into a third bag (I'm a little paranoid about damaging my laptop). This might sound crazy, but believe me, those handles come in handy for going through security. If you're in economy and it's a bit cramped, you want to keep the digging in your bag to a minimum, so by keeping the items most needed for work in a bag within a bag, the setup makes it much easier and faster to access, and also makes de-planing a snap (place it all in the bag, then put bag inside the bag once you're back in the terminal).

That's a condensed version of how I stay productive while I fly. A little bit of preparation before booking your flight and before boarding onto the plane can go a long way in helping you make the most out of your flying experience. 


What do you do to stay productive when you fly?

(Images: Joelle Alcaidinho)