How to Stay Entertained on a Plane

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Sometimes conversation is the best in-flight entertainment.
Sometimes conversation is the best in-flight entertainment. (Image: Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Wilbur Wright, co-inventor of the airplane, once described the sensation of flying in a plane as “one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost.” But that airborne sense of wonder has given way in recent decades to boredom and annoyance. In a recent survey of customer satisfaction with 47 industries, airlines finished tied for last, according to an article in "Bloomberg News," entitled "Airline Industry Ties For Last Place in Customer Satisfaction Survey." Ever since commercial flight began, passengers have grasped for ways to make the experience an entertaining or at least bearable one.

The Silver Screen at 35,000 Feet

Passengers rank watching movies as the best way to pass the time on a flight. In a recent poll, 41 percent of customers said so. The second favorite, reading, was 20 points behind, according to an article in "Business Line," entitled "Watching Movies, Reading Most Popular Activity on Board an Aircraft: IATA." Movies are the original in-flight entertainment. The first movie on a plane was a silent short called “Howdy Chicago,” screened on a sightseeing flight over the Windy City in 1921. In the 1960s, with smaller 16mm projectors, followed by the invention of headphones, movies became a regular feature on longer flights. In the 1980s and 1990s, VHS cassettes and DVDs made showing movies easier for flight crews to manage, but passengers still had no choice of filmic fare. Today, many airlines offer an impressive selection of current movies on private seat-back screens. But they’re no longer included in the price of a plane ticket. Each viewing can cost $5.99 or more, as of 2013, according to IndependentTraveler.com.

A Movie Megaplex in Your Carry-On

Today, passengers no longer need to rely on airlines, even those with rich and varied entertainment systems, for in-flight viewing. And there’s no need for pay-per-view fees. Laptop computers and, more recently, tablets such as Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s Kindle or the Barnes and Noble Nook HD can be carried on planes easily. Before traveling, use iTunes, Amazon Video On Demand or Google Play to download movies legally, for less than the airline pay-per-view fees, suggests iMore.com in its article entitled "How to Download and Enjoy Movies, TV Shows, and Music on Your New iPad." Then walk on board with a virtual multiplex movie theater that you can slip into your seat-back pocket until the captain says its okay to turn on electronic devices.

Children: Not So Easily Amused

Grown-ups have gadgets and movies to keep themselves amused during tedious flights. But keeping a kid entertained during flight is a takeoff-to-landing project. Supply kids with their own movies or downloaded TV shows, if you have an extra tablet or two to spare. But a child’s attention often won’t last for a whole program. Other suggestions from "Parenting" magazine include providing kids with crayons and coloring books -- just make sure the crayons are the kind that won’t easily roll away -- and making crafts with easy-to-carry items such as sticky notes or even o-shaped cereal. A child can thread the ring-shaped cereal along a string to make a necklace that can be worn, then eaten. Keeping a child’s mind occupied with creative activities helps keep boredom at bay.

In-Flight Entertainment the Old-Fashioned Way

You can use electronic devices to play video games or even -- heaven forbid! -- do work. But hard as it may be to believe, it remains possible to pass flight time in relatively pleasant fashion without futuristic gadgets. The simple act of sleeping not only causes a flight to feel shorter, but you arrive rested and ready. Bring your own neck pillow, or regular pillow and doze off in your seat, advises Infinite Leg Room in its article entitled "10 Best Ways To Sleep On a Plane." If economy class seats are too uncomfortable to allow decent sleep, here’s an idea: talk to the person seated next to you. Conversation not only passes the time quickly, but you might make a friend or valuable business contact that lasts long after your flight reaches its gate.

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