How to Stay Productive on Flights When Laptops Are Banned

Hurtling through the air in a metal tube is an awe-inspiring feat of human ingenuity. Despite this fact, very few people like airline travel. Long wait times, invasive security procedures, uncomfortable seats and horrendous food have stripped traveling by air of its novelty. Although air travel can be a drag, there is one bright spot: limited distractions from work.


Frequent fliers of the business world have long called airplanes their office in the sky; however, productivity at 30,000 feet has taken a huge hit recently. With talk about airlines banning electronics larger than a cell phone, anyone who uses flying to catch up on work is no doubt shaking in their boots. With laptops and tablets being relegated to checked luggage, it’s going to be harder to stay on top of work. Before you give up and pop a Xanax on your next flight, consider these alternatives.

Loaner Laptops + Your OS on a USB

A ban on laptops and tablets will certainly rub some folks the wrong way. In an effort to appease travelers who might be resistant, some airlines are supplying business class (and above) customers with loaner laptops. While this is better than nothing at all, these loaners are bound to be horribly insecure. To make matters worse, they will presumably only offer the basics in terms of software. If you’re going to be using a loaner laptop, consider booting a portable persistent OS off a USB.


There are a ton of Linux distros that can boot from a live USB, including ones that put an emphasis on security. If Linux isn’t your thing, consider creating a Windows To Go environment. Windows To Go is particularly useful for people who need a pre-configured corporate environment complete with specific software.

Phone + Some Peripherals

Whether you realize it or not, the phones in our pockets are fairly powerful computers. If your smartphone has a large enough screen, you can treat it like a mini-laptop. The first thing you’ll want to do is install some apps. There are mobile apps available for both Android and iOS that mirror the functionality of many desktop software. What to install will depend on the individual, but you might want to consider an Office suite and PDF Reader.

Next, you’ll need to add some peripherals. Typing on your smartphone’s cramped on-screen keyboard is a surefire way to develop carpal tunnel. Therefore, your first concern should be a quality keyboard. Microsoft’s Universal Foldable Keyboard is a good option, but there are tons of other options. Be aware that many of these travel keyboards operate via Bluetooth. This can be problematic for two reasons. First, Bluetooth will cause your phone’s battery to drain faster. This can be annoying, especially on long haul flights. Secondly, Bluetooth isn’t usually allowed on flights. Some airlines don’t have a problem with it, but for others it’s a no go. Be sure to check with your airline to see where they stand on the issue. If Bluetooth is unacceptable, there are other solutions. If you have an Android device that supports OTG (On The Go), then you can connect a wired keyboard.

Go Old School

It’s hard to imagine doing anything without a screen. But before the days of laptops and tablets, people were still able to get work done. All it took was a quick visit to a local stationery store for a quality notebook. Pair the notebook with your favorite pen and you have yourself the original tablet. If you haven’t put a pen to paper in a long time, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. Before you skip to the next entry, give it a try. There is something liberating about removing the screen and physically writing something down.


The most popular writing notebooks on the market today are made with premium paper and elegantly designed. Be sure to check out offerings from Moleskine, Rhodia, and Quo Vadis. Of course you can always stick with an old standby: the classic legal pad. Of course it’s always a good idea to back up any handwritten work digitally.



Livescribe bridges the analog and digital by recording your handwritten notes and transferring a digital copy to your phone or tablet. Basically, a Livescribe pen looks and operates like a normal ballpoint; however, it has a few tricks up its sleeve. The Livescribe has an infrared camera and 2GB of storage to capture and record what you write. With the Livescribe app you can send your handwritten notes from the pen to your phone or tablet wirelessly.

What do you think of the proposed ban on laptops and tablets? How do you stay productive on flights? Let us know in the comments!

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