After many years as a flight attendant I have seen just about every gadget and gizmo designed for in-flight comfort and safety. But with new technologies come new trinkets — some are good ideas, and others are outright laughable. I have seen passengers with everything from suits to ward off solar radiation to knee-clamped lights to prevent jet lag. The following is my list of the best and worst of them — no endorsements, just my humble two cents, along with some feedback from readers.
Bose Noise-Canceling Headsets: Tune out the crying babies, annoying announcements or the loudmouth in back of you with these wonderful headsets. They are a must for the frequent flyer and, to my mind, the No. 1 in-flight product of 2006. They are not inexpensive by any means, but every passenger I asked told me they were well worth the price.
In the MP3-player category: the Apple iPod Nano, 4 gigabytes. Small, yet it holds plenty of songs and photos. I am normally not a huge fan of Apple, but this is one of the best MP3 players I have seen.
Want video with your MP3 player? Then go for the Creative Zen Vision M, 30 gigabytes. Much better than the video iPod because it accepts video in all different formats, has a radio and microphone, and has twice the battery life. I hear the Zune will give it a run for its money, but the jury is still out on that gadget.
Dell Inspiron Laptop Computer. It’s small, powerful, inexpensive and has been made even better with extended battery life.
3M Privacy Filter. Stop the annoying looky-loos who feel entitled to watch your screen. The filter is a small screen that fits right over your monitor, making it viewable only from your angle. I wrote this article on a recent flight and the filter worked like a charm. The only problem was that my overcurious neighbor kept commenting about how effective the filter was.
Earphone Jack Charger. Apparently, there is a new device out there that can recharge your USB gadget (cell phone, game system — you name it) just by plugging it into the airplane’s headset jack. I have not yet tried this but if it does what it says it does, I definitely have to get one.
Headphone Jack Coupler. This is a $3 item at Radio Shack but every frequent flyer should have one. It turns one headphone jack into two, so if your audio jack is broken, as many of them are, you can use your seat neighbor’s jack. Or share your MP3 player, movie rental or laptop with a travel companion.
OK, so much for the smart set. Now for some of the wildest in-flight gadgets I’ve seen in a long time.
Flatulence Filter. It’s a cushion that apparently eliminates the stink from last night’s Mexican meal. If someone sat down next to me with this apparatus, I would be both thankful and frightened. Does it muffle the sound as well? Wouldn’t it just be easier to buy a roll of Gas-X?
Knee Defender. This apparatus prevents the passenger in front of you from reclining his seat. At first, it seems like a great idea, but when the guy in front of you makes a scene and calls the flight attendant, you’re going to look pretty silly. I know the economy seats are small, but this is not going to solve the problem. As of now, every passenger has the right to recline except those in the row in front of the window exits.
Privacy Scarf. You have to see this. It is a scarf that fits over your head and laptop, allowing you total privacy. OK, unless you are James Bond or you have a need to watch pornographic content in flight, this is a bit over the top, don’t you think? Get the 3M privacy filter instead.
Seat Cover. From the Howard Hughes line of germaphobes, comes a cover that fits over an entire airline seat. I think this is a bit much but, mind you, nobody can be sure when the airline last washed the seats properly.
Ionic Breeze. There are mixed reactions to this product. Some say it purifies the air, and others say it pollutes it. It is worn below the neck and apparently sends trillions of air-cleansing ions up toward your face. The people who wear it swear by it, but they are hardly going to badmouth a trinket that they spent more than $120 for.
At the beginning of a flight a while back, a businesswoman dressed in smart business attire took her seat and proceeded to take out an elaborate hat made of many layers of aluminum foil. She wore it for the duration of the flight. When I asked her about it, she told me it was her anti-radiation hat and that she owns several of them. This woman flies hundred of thousands of miles a year and has never gotten sick from flying. I guess if it works for her, who am I to comment? But I do wonder if she has ever heard the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Just curious.
Got any items that you would recommend for this year’s list? and I will check it out. Happy New Year!
James Wysong has worked as a flight attendant with two major international carriers during the past fifteen years. He is the author of the "The Plane Truth: Shift Happens at 35,000 Feet" and "The Air Traveler's Survival Guide." For more information about James or his books, please visit or .