The hubby and I spend a lot of time on planes. Sometimes, it’s only a two- or three-hour flight, which doesn’t seem like that much time wasted. But on other trips we might spend more than half-a-day in transit. Time we won’t get back. Time that he didn’t have to waste in the first place.

When there’s wi-fi, Rand usually goes through his email, and he often catches up on presentations and projects when he can’t get online. But as his unemployed, somewhat parasitic companion, I’m able to be slightly more creative with my time. I could spend it watching the same miserable blockbuster again (seriously, do people not understand that Megan Fox is not a good actress? Or am I missing the point?) or I could actually use my flight time productively.

Here are my ten tips for making the most out of those airborne hours. Whether you’ve got work obligations, blog obligations, or no obligations at all, you can step off that jetway feeling like you accomplished something (besides familiarizing yourself with the entire Sandra Bullock canon).

  1. Be literate. Lots of people read on planes. And most of them are reading contemporary crap. Sure, you could grab the latest wad of Charmin that Stephanie Meyer has put out, or you could force yourself to plow down on some classics. Because you might never get through a Tale of Two Cities at home, but when you’re on a plane with nothing else to do, you’ll be amazed by how interesting the story becomes (especially when you envision Chris Sarandon as Charles Darnay).
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    Meee-yow.

    Tis a far, far better ... meow.

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  2. Catch up on correspondence. The art of the written letter is supposedly dead, but it doesn’t have to be. Grab a plane-safe pen and a stack of notecards, and get writing. Odds are you have a relative who isn’t tech-savvy enough to check email everyday, but who would love to hear from you. Isn’t it about time you got yourself out of a few years of purgatory?
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  3. Have a conversation. No, really. Talk to the person you’re sitting next to. You could make a new friend. Or you might just get a fantastic story out of it (a colleague of Rand’s sat next to Sarah Palin on a recent flight to NYC. “I’ll be honest,” he said. “I didn’t vote for you.” Her reply? “Not a lot of people did.”)
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  4. Get creative. While scissors are generally a no-no (though apparently if the blade is less than 4 inches long, you can take it. But I have trouble imagining that all TSA-holes know that), that doesn’t mean you can’t get some creative needle-work done while airborne. Whether it’s knitting, crocheting, or my new obsession of felting (which requires no scissors at all), you can use your flight time to make something great.
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    I will never get tired of posting images of this.

    I will never get tired of posting images of this.

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  5. Take a nap. Who says sleep can’t be productive? If you were up late working on a project, or up early to catch your flight, odds are you aren’t operating at capacity. Take a guilt-free nap (you are on a plane, after all). You’ll probably wake up before you’ve slept too much (usually exactly the moment the drink cart has passed you) and you’ll be refreshed when you land – something most people can’t say.
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  6. Work. While in-flight wi-fi is often not available (at least not on Alaska), most of us need simply a laptop and an open word doc to get ahead on some work. Start composing a blog post or an overdue article, or put the finishing touches on the presentation that you’re supposed to give approximately 10 minutes after landing. And – bonus! – it’s one of the few times you can drink a bloody mary while technically working.
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  7. Write your holiday shopping list. Sure, it might be incredibly early (or late), but why not get started on the sorts of tasks that are certain to pile up on you? Christmas or birthday lists, potential nicknames you’d like to acquire (e.g., “T-bone”), and names for the dog that you will one day get when you stop traveling every other week (CHESTER COPPERPOT!) are all subjects worthy of contemplation at 35,000 feet.
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  8. Get started on the great American novel. If you are human (and you most likely are), you likely have a secret project that you think about, but never take time to work on. It might be a broadway-show inspired by the musical stylings of Jennifer Lopez (From the Block! The Musical), a book of haikus about pastries, or a novel about teenagers in a small Northwestern town who – gasp! – aren’t vampires and werewolves.
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    What happened to the good old days, when kids in NW towns were treasure hunters who used geographic features to find One-Eyed Willys gold?

    What happened to the good old days, when kids in NW towns were treasure hunters who used geographic features (like Haystack Rock) to find One-Eyed Willy's gold?

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  9. Watch something educational. While seeing Julia Stiles struggle through her most recent “acting” gig isn’t exactly productive (seriously, HOW IS THAT GIRL FAMOUS?), there are some movies that won’t leave you desperate to have two lost hours of your life back. Try an independent or foreign film, or even a documentary. Later, amaze your friends with obscure facts and tidbits about rural east African villages, and make them think you’re the sort of person who cares about things.
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  10. Familiarize yourself with the entire Sandra Bullock canon. No, I’m serious. This could be productive – I promise. If you’re a blogger (and a lot of you seem to be) then having pop-cultural awareness is invaluable when writing a post. And while it might be excruciating to watch, All About Steve could provide some great blog fodder. I can’t tell you how often the Fug Girls mention Orphan on their site (to great reception), or how frequently I talk about John Stamos. Mmm … John Stamos.
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But don’t leave me hanging, folks – those of you who spend a lot of time in planes probably have loads of clever, productive ways to pass the time (nose-picking doesn’t count. Judging by what I saw on the streets of San Francisco this week, you can do that anywhere). Share your suggestions in the comments section below.

Full list of categories:  Air Travel » Top Ten
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Comments (4)

  1. 06. May, 2010 / Jane:

    After media events, I write my thank you/follow up notes on the plane… this way one thing is already ticked off the “ta do” list! Love that feeling.

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  2. 06. May, 2010 / ayngelina:

    I’ve noticed in some flights now there is a section on the tv screens to learn a language or helpful phrases.

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  3. 07. May, 2010 / Candice:

    Hahaha. Flying is definitely the best way for me to catch up on my reading. I’ve never been on a flight with wi-fi though, that’d be snazzy.

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  4. 08. May, 2010 / Trisha Miller:

    I’m with Candice on this one – I spend the time catching up on issues of Writer’s Digest and MacWorld, both of which usually inspire ideas for several blog posts, so I’ll flesh out some outlines to be finished later. Of course I do love a good Sandra Bullock movie too. :)

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