12 Ways to Actually Get Work Done on a Plane


It is possible to be productive while up in the air. (Photo: Mosuno/Stocksy)

By Johnny Jet

My friends are often surprised to learn that I get most of my work done on airplanes. They ‪think it’s almost impossible for a number of reasons, including lack of space. But me: I think it’s the best way to pass the time. When one friend recently asked me how I do it, I decided to write a post to share my tips with all of you. So here are my 12 ways to actually get work done on a plane:

1. Get as much space as possible‪

With airlines increasing the number of seats on planes and decreasing passengers’ ‪space, it’s imperative to get as much space as possible. If you’re flying business or first, it’s not a problem but it’s very difficult to work in regular coach seats unless you are really short and skinny. When I fly coach, I prefer to sit in the exit row or bulkhead since I know there will be enough room to work. These seats used to be free but now they cost extra unless you’re an elite frequent flier. So either pony up the extra cash to sit in one of these seats, or one of the airline’s premium economy seats, if they offer it. Just be careful since some airlines like American offer preferred seating for extra money, but all that means is that they’re closer to the front of the plane, not necessarily providing extra room. If I’m not an elite frequent flier on the airline I’m flying, I will ask the gate agent very nicely if they can move me to a seat with more leg room or to a seat with an open seat next to it. Consult SeatGuru for the best seats.

2. Choose flights with Wi-Fi‪

Some business travelers prefer to be on flights without Wi-Fi as they don’t want to be connected to their office or distracted by emails. I prefer to be on flights with Wi-Fi as it not only allows me to research stories but also stay up to date with my emails, social media, and even post stories and send travel deals newsletter from the sky. This way, when I land, I can relax and not feel I have to rush to my hotel to catch up. So whenever I fly, I book flights that have Wi-Fi. Just look for the Wi-Fi symbol when booking on an airline’s website or consult RouteHappy or Hipmunk.

Related: Wi-Fi Report Card: Which Airlines Keep You Connected the Best?

3. Get cheaper Wi-Fi

The only problem with in-flight Wi-Fi is that it can be expensive – and especially if you buy it on the plane. The trick here is to sign up for Wi-Fi in advance. First, find out if your flight offers inflight Wi-Fi, and look up the name of the provider, though chances are it’s going to be Gogo since they’re by far the leader in in-flight Wi-Fi. Then, just head to Gogo’s website and “Buy Before You Fly” (under the “Connect” tab). An All-Day Pass is $16, which is about half the price charged to those already onboard a transcontinental flight. If you fly often, consider getting a monthly membership for $59.95.

4. Share your Wi-Fi‪


Since you’re paying for Wi-Fi anyway, make the most of it and share it between your devices. (Photo: Iain Masterton/incamerastock/Corbis)

Since Wi-Fi is so expensive and I usually like to be connected to my laptop and phone (so I can iMessage my loved ones), I use Connectify, which allows me to share my connection to multiple devices without spending any more money.

5. Download/research in advance‪

Just in case an airline swaps out your aircraft for a plane that doesn’t ‪have Wi-Fi at the last minute (it happens), or the Wi-Fi isn’t working, be sure to download all of your emails before getting on the plane. Since I do a lot of research, I will download those web pages as well and copy and paste the info ‪into a Word document for future offline reference.

6. Make sure you’re fully charged

‪I also try to book flights on planes that have electrical outlets so I can stay powered up. But just in case they don’t have them or they’re not working, I make ‪sure my devices are all fully charged and I bring either back-up batteries or ‪an external power pack.

7. Bring the right adapter‪

Thankfully most of the newer planes have power outlets that will fit standard plugs, but some of the older planes have cigarette DC power (like the one in your car) or EmPower DC power; both will require you to have the right adapter. Here’s a device that will work for both. ‪I also carry a multi-country adapter ‪just in case there’s a foreign plug, but I’ve never had to use it except in international hotel rooms.

8. Bring a three-way outlet wall plug adapter


Too many things to charge and only one outlet? Oh noooooo! (Photo: Tod Kapke/Stocksy)

‪I always carry a three-way outlet wall plug adapter, which you can get at any ‪hardware store or on Amazon for less than $6. It allows you to charge multiple devices, which is especially helpful if one of the outlets in your row isn’t ‪working. This way you don’t have to fight over the remaining one with your ‪seatmate.

Related: 10 Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Airplane Habits: Are You Guilty?

9. Get a screen protector‪

Don’t like people looking over your shoulder when you’re using your laptop? Then get a 3M privacy screen filter like I have. These lightweight screens prevent your seatmates or passersby from seeing your screen. The only way the screen can be seen is by sitting directly in front of it. Now I can do my work and even pay bills without worrying that someone is watching over my shoulder.

10. Watch out for the seat in front of you‪

Many passengers are oblivious or just plain rude when they are on a plane. If I’m not sitting in a bulkhead seat or exit row, I’m always aware that the person sitting in front of me can (and often does) recline without warning. If my laptop is pressed up against their seat and they recline quickly, there’s a good chance my screen will break as it would get trapped in the edge of the lip that holds the tray table. So I always leave my laptop a few inches away from the back of the seat in front of me. Sometimes I will tap the passenger on their shoulder and ask them if they can let me know if they’re going to recline since I’ll be working on my laptop. One time I even made a deal with the passenger in ‪front since the seats were so tight. I told him I’d give him a Gogo pass for free in-flight Wi-Fi if he didn’t recline. He agreed! Here’s more on that.

Related: 10 Crazy Things I Saw on My Last International Flight

11. Watch your drink‪

When using your laptop on a plane, be careful of spills. Whenever the flight ‪attendants come around with the drink cart, I always close my laptop so ‪nothing will spill or accidentally splash on my keyboard.

12. Wear earbuds or noise-canceling headphones‪


Earphones are the universal sign for “don’t talk to me.” (Photo: Getty Images)

When you have a lot of work to do and need to focus, wear earbuds or noise-cancellation headphones to help drown out the ambient noise and the conversations happening around you. It’s also a subtle sign that you don’t want to be disturbed.

‪So there you have it! My 12 best tips for working on a plane. Did I miss ‪anything? What are your tips? Leave a comment below and tell me!

More from Johnny Jet:

10 Passport Tips that Will Save You Time, Money and Headaches

12 Things to Know Before You Travel to Europe

15 Tips for Surviving a Long Flight

WATCH: Flying Singapore Airlines in First Class for an Hour Ruined My Life

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