How to (sort of) sleep on an airplane
By Aimee Markwardt
Nothing is more frustrating — or degrading — than trying to take a peaceful nap on an airplane.
In theory, it should work. You are free from stimulation and obligation (unless you’re a parent; then you’re having a panic attack) as you soar like a pegasus through the clouds in a giant, sleek machine, where people offer you beverages and, well, that’s about it anymore. You have a chair. It reclines.
It gets stuck. It’s too small. (No, literally, airplane seats are at least 5 inches too small for the average American — in the 1960s. Before Qdoba.)
Especially if you’re on an international flight, you’re supposed to sleep. But where do you put your, um, body? If you snag one of the armrests, you risk cuddling up with a stranger or losing a limb to the metal carts. A common inflatable neck pillow pushes your head and body to an impossible 45 degree angle away from the seat. That is, if it stays on. If you do magically fall asleep, you risk the Panicked Head Thrustback.
You know the one.
The last time you’ve probably done the Panicked Head Thrustback was your senior year in high school the day before winter break when your homeroom teacher made you watch “Miracle on 34th Street” for at least the 75th time.
It starts with an innocent leaning of the cheek on your hand. The lean grows heavy. Then you think, “I’ll just rest my eyes for one second. It’s an extended blink, really.” And before you know it, your face is crashing toward the wooden desk, and some primal instinct (or neck reflexes) jerks your head back upright like it’s on a puppet string. This motion is always (unfortunately) accompanied with a snort or exclamation — as if shouting, “I’m OK” (or worse yet, a line from your extended blink like, “It’s made of tacos”) hides the fact that your entire left side just slipped out of your tiny yellow chair.
Perhaps even worse than the forward head bob is the backward one. Your head cranks back in a most unnatural and un-ergonomic kink and your mouth flops open. You usually drool. That’s when the teenager stuck in the middle seat next to you usually snaps a photo of you to Tweet later.
There must be a better way. There must be some dignity in airplane relaxation.
Here are some ways to try to make your flight more comfortable than sleeping in a small wooden schooldesk.
First, prepare. Learn how to get the best airplane seat. We’re talking exit rows, aisle or window seats and seats closest to the front.
Don’t carry it all on. Yes, this probably means shelling out more money for more bags. But if airplane seats are already too small, don’t torture yourself (and the people around you) by balancing your feet on a laptop case, puffy coat, duffel bag, boots, a pillow and blanket.
Dress comfortably. The Independent Traveler offers five things you should not wear on a plane. Avoid heels and strong perfume and those sexy leather pants that you have to unzip to sit down in.
Find what makes you comfortable. The Skyrest pillow, available on Amazon.com for $25, looks super weird, but it has rave reviews. There is also a memory foam travel pillow on Amazon for $39.99 that some buyers say is more comfortable than an inflatable one. Check out Amazon coupons for deals to save you money.
If you have lower back problems, consider a lumbar pillow. Corporate Travel Satefy sells an inflatable lumbar pillow for about $16.
For all-over comfort, check out the Dreamsack Airplane Comfort Kit, $59.95, which the Wall Street Journal rated best value. The kit inclues a silk blanket, pillowcase and eye shades.