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Tips for Getting Work Done on a Plane During COVID-19

Image of Michelle Farnsworth
Michelle Farnsworth


A lot has changed in business travel since the pre-pandemic days of 2019. Between COVID restrictions, reduced capacity, limited in-flight services, anxieties over flying, a day of flying can be grueling.

One thing that hasn't changed is that planes do not lend themselves as the perfect working environment.  So we have gathered 10 of the best tips for minimizing distractions and being productive while flying during COVID-19.

1. Select Optimum Travel Times

Do you consider yourself to be an early riser or night owl? The best time of day to be productive while traveling is during the times when you are normally most alert and attentive. It is unreasonable to expect yourself to be fully focused in the evening if you work best during the morning hours, or vice versa. Take into account the time it requires to takeoff and land, and be realistic of the amount of time you will actually have in the sky. Also, remember to stay hydrated in order to help you stay focused and feel energized throughout the duration of the flight.

2. Choose the Best Spot

Right behind selecting the best time of day to travel comes choosing the most ideal spot to sit on a plane. Choose where you are most comfortable, whether that is an isle seat that allows you to spread out and get up and walk around at your leisure, or a window seat that enables you to look out for inspiration and not have to constantly move for a row mate. It may also be worth paying a little extra money in order to get a bit more personal space found in the bulkhead or exit row seats. Steering clear of the back of the plane where constant restroom use will bombard your ears and nose will also help minimize any outside distractions.

3. Review Your Flight Itinerary

Short and sweet, but by knowing exactly how much time you have to work above the ground will help you better map out an in-air agenda. For example, on a shorter flight you can listen to a podcast, read a work-related book, or catch up on emails. For a longer flight you will need to plan and organize any material that you will need in order to fill up the entire air time, whether that is gathering hard copy files or making sure you are all set to go on the in-flight Wifi.

4. Fully Charge Any Electronic Devices

Before ever stepping into the airport, make sure that you have fully charged any electronic devices that you plan on using in flight. You never know when an outlet will be available or exactly how much time you will have (or need) to power up. If you are worried about your battery life, dimming the screen is a quick and easy way to conserve energy. You can also bring along a backup battery or external power pack or purchase a 3 outlet adapter which allows you to charge multiple devices using only one outlet.

5. Skip the Wifi in the Sky

If you skip the Wifi all together you may be able to cut down on the stress and dependance you feel when it is not reliably available or working correctly on board. Download or print any documents or emails to read offline, take screenshots of needed webpages, brainstorm meeting ideas or upcoming projects, all foolproof ways to work in the air. This will also give you something to do during takeoff and landing times when approved electronic devices must be stowed away.

6. Dress the Part

Wear comfortable clothing that will help you feel more relaxed through the duration of the flight. It’s hard to concentrate and stay motivated if you are uncomfortable. If you need to look professional upon landing, bring a change of clothes you can easily switch into once you have landed but before you meet up with any other professional. Plan ahead and dress the part, both on and off the plane.

7. Block out Excess Noise

One of THE best ways to get rid of distracting noises is to wear noise cancelling headphones. They will not only help you focus better by blocking out the sounds from all around you – whether from your chatty neighbors, the overhead announcements, or that crying baby a few rows back- but they are also a kind yet subtle sign that you are busy and do not want to make small talk or be bothered. Noise cancelling headphones are lightweight and effective in boosting concentration and productivity.

8. Purchase a Screen Protector

If you opt to work on more private materials while onboard, a screen protector is another great preflight purchase. These lightweight screens allows only the person directly in front of the screen to see exactly what is being displayed, preventing any row mates, passersby, or flight attendants from catching a glimpse of something confidential.

9. Utilize Your Space

Let’s face it. Even if you purchase a bulkhead or exit row seat, there is still not much space available on any given aircraft. Typically a tray table will only decently hold a laptop if the person in front of you remains in the upright position. And how often does that really happen? Make sure to leave your laptop a few inches from the back of the chair in case the person in front of you suddenly decides to relax and recline. Consider bringing a chill mat so that you can comfortably use your laptop on your lap if needs be, or save space by stowing your larger laptop and using a smaller tablet with a keyboard.

10. Have the Right Mindset

Consider any amount of work you were able to achieve on the plane a bonus. Prioritize tasks you would like to get done, but try not to bring along the most vital projects you have at any given time because they may or may not get accomplished. Leave those more crucial undertakings for other places, such as your hotel room or an airport coffee shop (or even back at the office), somewhere more spacious and predictable than your flight circumstances will be. Traveling is exhausting, so opt to work on lighter, more mindless tasks that you can more easily knock out on a plane. And cut yourself some slack if you aren’t as productive as you had hoped you would be.

Although you must have a great deal of self-discipline to accomplish anything in a distracting airplane environment, if you can implement some of these tips you can make travel during COVID-19 some of your most productive work hours. Just remember – it takes time, testing, and tweaking to develop a productivity routine in the air that will really work for you!

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