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What To Pack for Airline Travel

Airline travel can be stressful, especially once you are on the flight. With decreasing seat sizes and less and less legroom, even the most petite traveler can feel cramped and uncomfortable. For overnight and/or long flights, it’s essential that you pack smart, and bring airplane essentials so that you can be as comfortable as possible while flying.

Packing does take some advanced work. With limited space in the overhead bins, fees for checked luggage, and the possibility of lost luggage, packing for a flight is important. I recommend that you start with a packing list, and then check your airline’s website to see what the fees are for various bags. Once you know that, you can decide which type of bags to pack.

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Carry on under the seat in front of me

What To Pack for Airline Travel

According to the FAA regulations, you’ll be able to bring one carry-on bag that fits in the overhead bins, and one personal item that can be placed in the seat in front of you. Personal items can be things like handbags, computer bags, briefcases, small backpacks, and diaper bags.

However, your airline (especially budget airlines or discounted rates on other airlines) may charge for overhead space, or it may be unavailable by the time you board the plan. Therefore, it’s important that you pack anything absolutely essential in your personal item.

I have had a carry-on lost before – it was checked on the plane because there was no more overhead space, and it never made it onto the flight. Keep in mind, also, that lithium-ion batteries can’t be checked, so these should also be removed if you have to check the bag.

Carry On Bag

This is where you should place heavier and bulkier items. There are specific airline regulations for how large your carry-on can be. International flights may have different rules for your carry-on bag, it’s a good idea to look up that information before packing. Keep in mind that you will have to lift it over your head and ensure that it fits in the overhead bin and that the bin can be closed.

To make the most out of your carry-on bag, there are some packing tips you can consider. Rolling your clothes can help more fit in the bag and can also keep them from getting wrinkled. Packing cubes are also a great idea, and you can roll your clothes right into the bag.

I like to put my shoes at the bottom of the bag and arrange them so they are as flat as possible. If your shoes are dirty (or could get dirty at your destination), you may want to put them in separate shoe bags (you can find these on Amazon, or can use things like shower caps or plastic bags).

If you aren’t checking a bag, you’ll need to pack your carry-on luggage with your toiletries. According to current transportation security administration regulations, you can only have one quart-sized bag of liquids, gels, and aerosols, and each container must be 3.4 ounces or less. You’ll either have to purchase travel-sized items or put items from a larger container into a smaller one that fits in the regulations.

While I generally recommend putting any essentials in your underseat bag, if you do decide to put any in your carry-on bag, they should be at the top. That way, you can remove them if your bag has to be checked at the last minute. You’ll also have access to them during the flight if they are in front of you.

Airplane in sky

Underseat Bag

You’ll store your personal item (or underseat bag) under the seat in front of you. If, however, you are seated in a row section where you have the bulkhead in front of you (and not a seat), the flight attendant will tell you that you’ll need to place this item in the overhead bins for take-off and landing. I often find this to be inconvenient, although you’ll probably have the benefit of more legroom in these seats.

Your personal bag should contain your really important and valuable items, like your wallet, medication, and paperwork, as well as anything you’ll want to have for your flight. This would include a book/eReader, portable phone charger, lip balm, computer, airplane snacks, credit card, hand sanitizer, wipes to clean the tray table, armrests, and seat, computer, toys (if traveling with young kids), etc.

Pink duffle on top of roller suitcase with tote in the foreground

Overnight/Long Flights

If you are packing for airline travel that is on a red-eye flight or a long flight, you’ll probably want to include some flight essentials to ensure you are comfortable. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that it’s extremely difficult to get comfortable in a coach class seat for a red-eye flight. So it’s important to have the right items.

Here are some of my favorite red eye travel essentials (available at Amazon):

  • Eye Mask (if you are sensitive to light and want near-complete darkness, a sleep mask can be helpful)
  • Pillow (I don’t like the U-shaped ones – regardless of what travel pillow you bring make sure you put it in your bag and not directly on the germ-filled airport security belt)
  • Personal blanket – I love this wearable one because it has a pocket and won’t slide off of you.
  • Foot cradle
  • Comfortable clothes – make sure you are as comfortable as possible.
  • Change of clothes – you may want to change if you aren’t going right to your hotel room at your final destination. Even a change of underwear can be a good idea.
  • Reusable water bottle – you may want some water when you are on your flight – especially a long-haul flight. You can bring an empty water bottle through security, and then can fill it once you are past security.
  • Ear plugs or noise canceling headphones – if you are sensitive to noise

If you are taking a red eye, you’ll probably find that these items, in addition to the other essentials, really fill up your personal item. In that case, you can place them in a separate bag (tote or plastic bag) on the top of your overhead bag. Then, once you are ready to use them, you can pull them out of your bag.

Hopefully, these tips help you prepare for your next flight, especially any long trips you have planned. If we’ve left out anything you’d recommend, please leave us a comment.

Packed suitcase with boots and hairbrush next to it

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