How to be Productive on an Airplane

By: Freelance Contributor

Many of us live fast paced lives where just about every minute is planned and calculated in order to maximize productivity and get as much accomplished in our daily schedules as possible. We all know there are many ways to ‘kill time’ on an airplane (like consuming a few beverages from the cart, sitting back and watching 3 movies in a row) but what about using this essentially free time to your own benefit. It can really be a chance to do some of those things you always have on your list for self-betterment but never really seem to get to. Here are a few suggestions of ways you can actually boost your brain, all from the comfort of the plane:


Listen to a Lecture:

If you’re traveling on Virgin America in the near future you might be surprised to find something new available on the in-flight entertainment system: full A/V lectures! That’s right, a lecture company called The Great Courses’ has teamed up with Virgin to offer some awesome, IQ raising lectures and it’s all for free! Some of the interesting lectures available include High Stakes Decision Making and Ancient Egypt with many more in such categories as history, health, science, literature or whatever else your eager little mind can think of.

If you’re not flying Virgin (because hey, there are plenty of other airlines out there), you can still achieve the same cranium expanding results; it will just take a little more work. You can download your own lectures or Ted Talks or if all else fails find some interesting podcasts to download ahead of time. They won’t have the added sparkle of the in-flight system but you’ll be expanding your knowledge none the less.



Reading on an airplane isn’t exactly a new idea. In fact many, many people choose to spend their in-air time this way but the truth is that most of this reading is contemporary crud. Reading about vampires and steamy sexcapades hardly qualifies as knowledge enhancing material so instead, use the opportunity to be literate.

Bring along a classic book you’ve always wanted to read but never found the time. Catcher in the Rye and Wuthering Heights may be hard to get through at home but on an airplane where there are no distractions and nothing but time, you can easily absorb some classic literature. Alternatively, read up on something that interests you but you don’t know much about. Want to become well-versed in American History? There are books for that. Want to learn how to start an indoor hydroponic garden to grow your own vegetables year-round? There are books for that too.


Learn a New Language:

It’s hard to count the number of times I’ve heard people say “oh I really want to learn to speak…” –insert any non-English language here, but how often do we actually go ahead and work at this? Learning a new language such as French, Spanish, or Mandarin usually involves signing up for classes and committing to losing another one of our precious weekday evenings for at least a few months.

While you likely won’t step off the plane upon your arrival speaking fluent Spanish, it’s very possible to learn some basics that can be used to get your point across or help navigate a foreign city. It also might serve as a starting point for actually signing up for those weeknight classes and becoming fluent down the road. You may feel a little silly about practicing words out loud next to your neighbour but planes have enough distraction noise and they’re probably sleeping or watching a movie anyway.

Airplane Meditation



Slowing down and becoming ‘zen’ might at first sound like the opposite of productive but when you dig deeper and look at the benefits of meditation on the body and specifically the brain, you’ll see why this lands in our list. One of the number one reasons people do not practice regular meditation is time. Well, on a long haul flight you’re going to find yourself with a lot of that so try a meditation or 2. If you’re new to the practice, consider downloading an assisted meditation recording to your phone/music device to help guide you on the path to enlightenment.

Since meditation is usually done in an upright position, there’s no better place than right in your seat. What are the productive benefits of this practice? Well studies have shown meditation can actually increase grey matter in the brain as well as increasing happiness, quality of life and memory and decrease blood pressure.



We’ve all seen those people on airplanes who have their computers out and look to be deep at work and wondered “are they really that busy?” and while the answer may be no, you don’t have to be swamped to warrant some in-flight work time. You may not be able to get your inbox in order if wifi isn’t available but there are plenty of other ways to work offline. One suggestion is to download whatever you need ahead of time, if it’s reading this is easy. You can also draft emails and save them to send until you’re back online.

The possibilities are endless if you think about it ahead of time. You don’t have to be a business person in order to do this either. Busy parents can take this time to plan their family’s schedules for the coming weeks (or months), create meal plans, or work on family finances/budgets. All the little things that frequently get pushed to the back burner in a busy life.



Be Crafty:

Who has time to do crafts in today’s busy modern world? The answer: people who make time for them. If you’re like us, you’ve seen someone working on a knitting project while in a waiting room and as you look up from your Facebook app you think “hey, I should be doing that!”, and with hours flight time ahead of you, you can.

If you’re already into knitting, crocheting or the growing trend of felting, this is easy to do. Just pick a project, gather your materials in your carry on and you’re all set. By the time you land you might have a brand new hat. If you don’t know how to do any crafty things already, bring a long a book and learn to do it while you sail over the Atlantic. There are beginner books out there for every crafty hobby you can think of and you’ll have plenty of time to make mistakes and then learn from them, over and over again. Make sure you check airline safety regulations as things like scissors can be prohibited in carry-on luggage but most crafts can be modified to meet these rules.

So the next time you’re planning a big trip (or even a short one) that requires some time in the air, consider one of the above activates and capitalize on the chance to be productive and expand your ever growing mind.