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9 Things Flight Attendants Always Have in Their Carry-Ons

The most frequent fliers say these are must-have items for any traveler.

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Depending on where you're heading on your next trip, your checked luggage could be filled with any number of items you'll need when you land. But if you're hoping to stay comfortable while en route, it's essential to think about what you'll be bringing along to have on hand during the flight. And while security restrictions might limit you from specific items, experts say there are plenty of products to prepare you for your next time in the sky. Read on for the things flight attendants say they always have in their carry-ons.

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Something for the weather

black umbrella in the rain

Getting caught in a rainstorm is one thing when you're running errands near home. Unfortunately, it's an entirely different type of ordeal when you're stuck trekking through a new city and getting drenched while your luggage is in tow. That's why experts say it's best to be prepared for the elements at all times.

"I always carry a small umbrella in my carry-on luggage," says Steffanie Rivers, former flight attendant, drone pilot, and author of the Do's and Don'ts of Flying: A Flight Attendant's Guide to Airline Travel Secrets. "The weather outside changes from one destination to the next," she says, adding that you might not be able to buy a desperately needed umbrella after your arrival as quickly as you need one.

Products that will keep you feeling fresh

Close up of a man placing a bottle of hand cream in his carry on bag
Shutterstock / Anastasiya 99

Getting and staying comfortable on a flight isn't just about scoring that window seat or making sure you pack the right pillow. It's also about ensuring you're not arriving at your destination feeling dried out from the plane's recirculating air. That's why it's always best to come prepared to keep your body hydrated both inside and out.

"I always carry travel-size toiletries, including moisturizers for the body, face, and lips," says former flight attendant Jo Jo Harder. "Dry air in the cabin of a plane can wreak havoc on the entire body. Hydrating moisturizers and a simple tube of lip balm can really save a person from having dry skin and chapped lips their entire flight."

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Something to wear to the beach or pool

person holding swimsuit over suitcase filled with swimsuits and other clothes
BaLL LunLa / Shutterstock

Your carry-on bag is often reserved for those must-have items you'll likely need while you're in the air. But as anyone who has suffered a lost or misplaced piece of checked luggage can tell you, arriving at your destination without a change of clothes can put a serious damper on your trip. That's why Rivers says she always brings along a swimsuit when heading anywhere she expects to be on the water—especially if it's a quick trip where relaxation time runs short.

If you're headed someplace where you know you'll be taking a dip, it might be worth keeping one swimsuit option in your carry-on. "I never want to be at the beach and not have my bikini available," says Rivers.

Something to help you see better


There's nothing more frustrating than dropping an item during a flight and being unable to find it. And while your overhead light might be fine for filling out a crossword or flipping through a magazine, it does little to illuminate the areas around you where your belongings might have fallen. That's where a tiny flashlight can come in handy.

"I always carry a pen light for night flights," says Sue Kelly, a retired flight attendant with 22 years of experience. "They're also good to look for hidden cameras in hotel rooms."

The right footwear

putting shoes on after security
Daniskim / Shutterstock

Even though you'll be seated for your flight, your feet will see plenty of use any day you're traveling. So while many flyers will spend time picking the comfiest outfit for their flight, consider slipping on your best pair of footwear for the day instead of packing them in with your checked luggage.

"I always carry a comfortable and easy on/off pair of shoes," Heidi Ferguson, a flight attendant with 20 years of experience in the commercial and private aviation industry, previously told Best Life. "They're perfect for the airport—including TSA checkpoints—and also if you have to do a lot of walking. You never know what streets are like around the world, or how far the exit is in an airport."

Others agree that a change of footwear is essential—and not necessarily bulky. "A pair of Tieks are permanently parked in my overnight bag," says Kelly. "They're Italian-made ballet flats that literally fold into a pocket-size pair of shoes. I never travel without them."

Something to snack on

an assortment of nuts and pretzels and snacks

Whether you're expecting a meal on a long flight or at least a quick bite on a shorter haul, there's plenty that's still (forgive us) up in the air when it comes to eating on planes. In some cases, trips might not be stocked to cover every passenger, or they may run out of items suitable for you to eat before the cart makes its way to you. That's why flight attendants say it's best to come prepared with your own bites—both for during and after your flight.

"I always bring a small snack like granola or almonds," Ferguson previously told Best Life. "I've gotten into hotels super late and missed the snack cart too many times on the plane to count, so it's good to always have a little something in your bag as you never know where and when you can get food in a pinch or late at night."

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Clothing to keep yourself warm

woman sleeping on a plane with blanket and eye mask

Wherever you happen to be getting off to or from, there's no denying that airplane cabins can get downright chilly. That's why Rivers says she always brings along a light jacket or a hat for flights.

"The temperature on the aircraft always is colder than most people anticipate," she says. "If we have to deadhead instead of work and I'm sitting in a passenger seat, I always carry on these items because I want to be comfortable, as well."

You can also wear or bring along items to stay toasty from head to toe. "I also always carry thick socks, a sweater, and a small portable blanket for the plane because temperatures vary widely," Ferguson previously said.

Any items you can't live without

A USB charger and power outlet plug on the back of a seat on a plane

Packing space in your carry-on is obviously much more limited than in your checked luggage. But before you try to make room for that extra book or a large set of headphones, consider what you'll absolutely need to have on-hand if your travel plans get shuffled.

"Always carry on essential items, such as medicine and chargers," says Tifsit Teferra, a Salt Lake City-based flight attendant for Delta Air Lines. "If there's a delay or even a cancelation, you'll be at ease knowing you have the items you can't live without!"

And if you're worried about your gadgets creating chaos in your carry-on, there's a simple solution. "For electronic cords, a small toiletry bag does the trick—just fold cords and then use Velcro tape to secure them," Teferra suggests.

A way to keep clean

hand sanitizer on plane

Attention to hygiene in cleanliness in public spaces has taken on a new level of importance in the day since the COVID-19 pandemic began. And as a tightly-packed vessel with seemingly grimy surfaces, planes are one place you don't want to be caught without a way to keep yourself clean.

Even though some will airlines provide wipes, Kelly says it's best to bring along your own hand sanitizer or wipes to reduce exposure to germs and give your seat and tray table a little freshening up. They can also be especially helpful if you're moving about the plane.

"After leaving the lavatory, use a sanitizing wipe on your hands," Kelly previously told Best Life. "You will have just touched the germ-ridden lavatory handle after washing your hands and then possibly touched a seat back to get back into your window seat."

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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