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It’s a travel scenario we’re all familiar with: You make it through the airport, board your plane, settle into your seat, and…suddenly realize you left something at home. It may something replaceable like a phone charger or toothbrush, but it’s still incredibly annoying to be stuck in the air without those essentials.
While you can easily make a packing list (and check it twice), there are still some basic items that travelers usually forget to throw in their carry-on bags. But what are the things people almost always forget to pack? To get some answers, we reached out to a few flight attendants with 26 years of combined experience. After so much time in the sky, they have heard every complaint and dealt with every request, and they were gracious enough to share their knowledge with us.
Read on for their carry-on packing tips, and be sure to revisit this list before your next flight.
“Water bottles are the most useful item that passengers forget or don’t think to bring,” says Sarah McWilliams-Guerra, who was a Delta Air Lines flight attendant for seven years before launching her own travel website, Airplane Mode. “By bringing an empty water bottle through security, passengers can fill up their bottle in the airport and not rely on anyone else if they’re thirsty or need water.”
McWilliams-Guerra says that while flight attendants can usually accommodate requests for water, many budget airlines don’t include free drinks. To avoid paying a hefty fee or having to wait to quench your thirst, bring your own travel-friendly water bottle—you can even find collapsible bottles that hardly take up any space in your bag.
Shop Reusable Water Bottles
Shop Reusable Water Bottles
Blankets & pillows
Ask any flight attendant and they’ll tell you: It’s impossible to please everyone on the plane. “One passenger will be hot and the other cold,” says Steven Daniel, who has worked on SkyWest Airlines for the past two years. “It’s important to bring your own blankets and pillows for your comfort.”
You obviously don’t want to fill up your carry-on with bulky bedding, so make sure to look for compact, travel-sized blankets and pillows. Many popular travel blankets fold down to a fraction of their full size, while the best pillows are lightweight while still providing ample neck support.
The History of Tailgating
If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that you can never be too cautious when it comes to germs—especially on airplane armrests and tray tables. “Due to COVID, many passengers come on the plane asking for Clorox wipes,” says Emily Kuhn, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant with more than eight years of experience. “Most airlines provide small hand wipes, but never enough for an entire flight.”
She suggests packing a small amount of disinfecting wipes in a Ziplock bag or buying a few individually wrapped wipes for your flight. Just be sure to use products with at least 70% alcohol to truly get rid of germs, per the CDC’s advice.
“As a flight attendant, I never know what city/state I may visit the next day as my schedule is quick to change,” says Daniel. “I always try to prepare by bringing items for all types of weather.” He often hears passengers complain that they forgot their umbrellas or rain jackets when they land in a rainy location—it’s best to look up your destination’s weather forecast before your flight and pack accordingly.
A travel-sized umbrella doesn’t take up much space in your luggage, and you’ll be glad you brought one when you have to wait for a taxi in the rain. Sure, you can buy an umbrella at the airport, but you better believe those prices are going to be super jacked up.
“Passengers also don’t think to bring headphones with a plug,” says McWilliams-Guerra. “With the rise of wireless headphones and Air Pods, passengers don’t have headphones that plug into the [screen] when there is entertainment on board.” Note that this also applies to wired headphones that don’t have 3.5 mm audio plugs, like Apple devices with Lightning connectors—even those will need a Lightning to headphone jack adapter to work with airline screens, which is one more tiny gadget to pack.
While many airlines sell headphones for a small fee or let passengers stream movies from an app on their phone (meaning you can use your usual headphones), it’s best to play it safe and bring your own pair. You can invest in a reliable brand like Bose or Apple, but honestly, a basic, inexpensive set of wired headphones will serve you just fine on a flight.
Of course, you may be a staunch wireless headphones loyalist—and that’s fine! If you don’t want to part with your Bluetooth headphones for even a few hours, you can buy an adapter to pair your headphones with the in-flight entertainment system. Madison Vogelsang has been a flight attendant for Planet 9 for nine years, and she personally recommends the 1Mii Bluetooth 5.2 Transmitter Receiver. “It’s my favorite and is compatible with various devices such as Bose and Apple,” she says.
You simply plug the adapter into your seat’s aux jack (where wired headphones would normally plug in), sync your device, and watch movies to your heart’s content.
While we’re on the topic of electronics, make sure you don’t get stuck 35,000 feet in the air with a bunch of devices and no way to charge them. Flight attendants list phone chargers as one of the most frequently forgotten items amongst passengers, but you really should make sure all your gadgets are covered.
“I recommend packing at least one charger per each device you bring onboard,” says Vogelsang, “along with a portable charger in case the USB slot at your seat is damaged.” Many portable power banks can recharge your device three or four times and are no bigger than an average smartphone—so there’s really no excuse not to bring one along.
Passport & IDs
While packing your passport and driver’s license may seem like a given, Daniel says many passengers often lose these items on the plane or between connections. To avoid this travel nightmare, keep your important documents safe and secure with a travel wallet or passport holder. Most have room for all your IDs, plus other necessities like cash and vaccination cards.
Finally, nearly every flight attendant we spoke to said that the item people most often forget is…a pen. Yep, that simple. “You rarely would add a pen to your packing list, but you’ll need one for paperwork for international destinations, or just to do a crossword puzzle in a magazine,” says Kuhn.
On a personal note, I can vouch that forgetting to pack a pen is a huge pain (especially as a writer who loves in-flight crossword puzzles). While I always try to throw a couple in my carry-on before each trip, I find it’s much better to keep a little zip-up pencil pouch in my luggage with at least a few writing utensils—while I lose pens all the time, I never lose the cases.
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