The best apps and gadgets to deal with long-haul boredom

Who says you need to rely on inflight movies to keep you entertained on your next trip? Here’s our guide to the best alternatives to make the time fly

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 June, 2016, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 June, 2016, 5:01pm

Life at 12,000 metres is a test of endurance, and it’s getting harder. Sure, someone brings you food and drink – for now, at least – but the perks of jet-setting are quickly diminishing. The most obvious is with inflight entertainment screens, which are being gradually degraded. We’re all to blame; the presence of so many iPads and tablets in the cabin means that providing passengers with the latest and greatest movies is taking an ever-lower priority.

Of course, there is a way for long-haul boredom to be instantly banished. However, not only is high-speed satellite Wi-fi taking its sweet time to become common or affordable in the air, but where it does exist it’s painfully slow. Checking email is fine – just about – but you can forget about streaming from Netflix. So it’s to the offline world that we all must head for entertainment.

Save for advising you take a large portable battery like the 10,000mAh mophie Powerstation 5X external battery (HK$1,098, apple.com/hk), we’ll skip over watching films or playing a game on a tablet or phone and go straight for the next most popular pastime on the long haul; reading. While previous incarnations of its reader have had handy backlighting ideal for the gloom of a night-flight, the latest Kindle is just the ticket for aircraft cabins.

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Although it’s got the same six-inch screen as the Kindle Voyage, the new Kindle Oasis (HK$2,249, amazon.com) is 20 per cent lighter and 30 per cent thinner. Equipped with 60 per cent more LEDs than before, it’s now more comfortable to read in the dark, and more easily seen when someone in a window seat nearby throws open the blind and sunlight streams in.

Although they’ve got the most restricted access, window seats can be the best in the house. The unique Flyover Country app will tell you what’s below you, complete with offline Wikipedia articles, if you tell it what route you’re about to fly. Once you know where you are, the 3D world fact book app Geo Walk HD can also be entertaining while periodically looking out of the window, as can the National Geographic World Atlas app. It can be quite a show; I recently took some spectacular photos while cruising over the Zagros Mountains that separate Iran and Iraq (countries I’ll probably never touch down in), while those flying the polar route between Asia and Europe at night should keep a lookout for the Northern Lights. If you want to know if that’s likely, the Aurora Forecast app lets you see whether you’ll be flying through the otherwise unpredictable ‘aurora oval’ that night, while general stargazing is possible if the cabin lights are turned off. Apps like Star Walk 2, SkySafari and Sky Live will help you identify the brightest stars.

If staring at a laptop is more your thing, you could get a lot of work done. Offline and in limbo between time zones is often when inspiration can hit, especially if the flight time leaves you wide awake for long periods. The simple Paper app is ideal for simple sketches and for jotting down those amazing ideas that come during moments of clarity. Evernote is better suited to structured writing while Storyist is useful if you want to spend a few hours fleshing out an idea for a novel. Or how about a pen and paper?

However long you’re glued to your tablet, laptop, smartphone or Kindle, one of the best ways of keeping yourself entertained on a long flight is to talk and walk. If you’re travelling with your partner or a friend, spend time in the space around the (usually empty) bathroom and kitchen areas chatting and stretching.

Aside from the lack of space, what really upsets us on physical level when we fly is the noise. If you sit near one of the engines, you’re getting about 85 decibels of white noise when at cruising altitude (and that’s not counting snorers around you).

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Even if you sit near the back of the plane where it’s quietest, a pair of noise cancelling headphones is irresistible; the benchmark Bose QuietComfort 25 (HK$2,678, bose.hk), compact Sennheiser MM 550-X Travel (HK$4,089, hmv.com.hk) and cable-free Sony h.ear on Wireless MDR-100ABN (HK$2,580, sony.com.hk) are all great when you need to concentrate amid the din. While those headphones cleverly cancel out the noise, if you’re aiming for the ultimate boredom-killer – sleep – then it’s the randomly generated sounds and binaural beats of apps like Sleep Machine, Zen Space and Airsleep that will actually help you drop off.

Our final way to deal with 15 hours in the air is really an more expensive extension on the last. Take a gulp, gather your frequent flier miles, and ask for an upgrade. With your legs outstretched and your chair fully reclined, figuring how to deal with boredom will be a mere 40 winks away.