The most legit airplane sleeping pillow.
Context: This year I’ve flown a handful of flights (6 if I’m counting correctly) that were redeyes; 5 of them were SFO to NYC (either JFK or EWR) and 1 was SFO to MSY (New Orleans). I really like being efficient with time and have a hard time sitting still for a long period of time, so the concept of a redeye flight has always appealed to me… even though I’m not great at sleeping on planes. (Sleeping in cars, on the other hand, is my expertise; something about the vibrations of a moving vehicle make me downright narcoleptic.) I tried a few different pillow strategies for sleeping on the first few redeye flights I had this year: I already have one of those canonical U-shaped neck pillows, I tried using a rectangular packing cube stuffed with clothes as pillow, I did the thing where you put your backpack on the tray table and leaned forward to try and sleep — but none of these really worked for me.
The U-pillow didn’t work because most airplane seats are meant for tall[er] people (NB: I’m only 5’4” at best), and when I put it behind the nape of my neck it (in concert with the headrest) pushed my head forward and then my head would just awkwardly roll to one side. I can’t really sleep with my neck at a 90-degree angle to my spine, not to mention that I think I’m getting old and can’t afford to wake up with a seriously sore neck. I tried rotating the U-pillow so that the opening was in the back of my neck (like a necklace), but I found this was annoying because the pillow wouldn’t always stay in place. Lastly, if I tried to turn the U-pillow with the opening to one of my sides, it kind of worked if I felt like craning my neck to sleep on the side, but I had to stay in that position all fight, and I still had most of the first issue I mentioned with the U-pillow pushing my head forward. Conclusion: I’m not really sure who gets good sleep with a U-pillow, but those things still manage to get bought by hundreds of people at airports even though they’re kind of bulky and are uncomfortable in my opinion.
My intent behind trying the packing cube pillow approach was that I found when I sat in window seats for redeye flights, I was never good at estimating if the window frame would/wouldn’t align with where the seat’s edge met the side of the plane, so sometimes I’d be leaning against the window (resulting in a large gap of space I’d need to fill in order to be able to lean on the side) vs. leaning against the non-window space between windows on the side of the plane (which meant there was a smaller space to fill in order to lean on the side). *Aside: Hopefully that description made sense to someone out there.* I figured having something bigger to serve as a pillow would enable me more options to fill the space between my head and the side of the plane, but unfortunately being short and the window spaces being awkwardly placed for me meant that I couldn’t get the makeshift packing cube to stay put between my head and the side of the plane. Another fail.
My last desperate attempt to get some sleep on flights where one of the earlier two options failed me was to just get my backpack and put it on the tray table and to lean forward and try to sleep on my arms crossed over my backpack. I think this probably works a lot better when you are actually really short/young in age, but for anyone who’s probably taller than 5’ I think it means you have to really hunch your back/neck to fold over such that your head isn’t pushing up against the seat in front of you (especially because odds are the person in front of you is leaning their seat back the measly 3 inches that seats lean back these days, even though that doesn’t really do much for anyone who’s trying to sleep, making it even harder for your head not to bump against the seat in front of you). All of that adds up to an uncomfortable position that doesn’t last for long, especially because I can never find a sleeping position that doesn’t result in circulation getting cut off to one of my arms, so I end up deciding that I ought to find a new position to sleep in vs. trying to hunch my neck/back while simultaneously depriving my appendages of blood. Whomp whomp.
Okay, so now that you’ve heard everything I’ve tried in the past, here’s a quick story on how I came across the pillow I have now and am telling you is fabulous. On one of my redeyes to NYC earlier this year, I had a window seat and had just gotten to my seat and was getting situated. I was looking at the folks seated around me, and I noticed that someone in the same row (but in the aisle seat on the other half of the row) looked really familiar. *Another aside: If you didn’t know already, Zach and I love to watch Survivor, and a couple years ago we went through a phase where we binge watched a lot of older seasons. In one of the earlier seasons of the show, an Asian guy named Yul Kwon won (beating out one of Zach’s favorite Survivor players of all time, Ozzy Lusth, but that’s another story for another day) — and sometime in our first couple years of working at Facebook we realized that Yul is a fellow Facebook employee. So, we’re both familiar with his face because we watched so many hours of TV featuring him the season he won.* So, the guy I recognized was Yul! I had my “eee this is the closest I’ll ever get to a Survivor, so cool” moment, and by the time I looked his way a second time to make sure it was definitely him, I noticed that he had started putting on an airplane sleeping pillow.
– The pillow has a good deal of cushioning on both sides of your face (as you essentially buckle your face into the pillow). The cushioning is soft and non-constricting while still having enough firmness to support your head no matter which side you want to nod off to. When the pillow is buckled around my head, the cushioning that spills toward the front also helps keep my head upright.
– Along the back of your head, there’s just a flat piece of fabric that connects the two side pillows, which means that your head can lean all the way back against the seat and not be pushed forward.
– No matter which seat (window, middle, aisle) I’ve sat in, the pillow keeps your head from spilling over into an adjacent seat’s space. (This is one of my main annoyances/fears of sleeping on planes when I am flying by myself.)
– The pillow makes sleeping a real possibility for me on redeye flights.
– The pillow’s cushions are kind of awkward shapes, and they don’t compress well. The pillow takes up a reasonable amount of space, and I have to remember to bring another tote bag to put it in (in my opinion this is a small price to pay for a good sleeping tool on redeye flights though).
– The pillow comes with a drawstring travel bag (+1), but it isn’t really a shape that matches the pillow itself (-1) so I always have to cram it into the bag. Nonetheless, there’s a clip that’ll allow you to attach it to your carry-on if you don’t have space to put the pillow in an actual bag.
– You can’t really wear noise-cancelling headphones while you have the pillow strapped around your head, so I’ve opted for earplugs (which can be annoying if you put them in before the flight takes off, due to pressure changes in elevation). It takes some adjusting if you want to position your head with other gear, but optimizing for sleep is always first for me.
Anywho, I think it’s a great pillow, and paired with a comfortable pair of eyeshades and earplugs, it is a part of my winning equation to getting actual sleep on a redeye flight.
And in case you were wondering, I got it off of Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N6MJ3QI