When you board an airplane, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is office ergonomics. More likely, the bulk of your mental power is focused on a timely takeoff, or prying some elbow space away from your armrest-hogging neighbor. But for those of us who fly often, those cramped airplane seats arean office—one in which copious amounts of work must be completed, regardless of the fact that your knees are digging into the tray table, or that the Chatty Cathy in the middle seat has a life story to tell. While an airplane seat will never provide full comfort, there are many ways you can hack what you’ve got to increase the space’s ergonomics. Let’s take a look at the specific problems airplanes present, as well as a few solutions.
Whether you’re already prone to hunching or your back is normally straight enough to impress a finishing school headmistress, airplane seats promote bad posture. This is all the more true if the person in front of you leans way back, tilting your screen down and forcing you to hunch just to see. What’s more, if you’re working with your laptop right in your lap, your laptop can overheat, leading to toasted skin syndrome, which can cause permanent skin discolorations and may decrease male fertility.
You may have to place the tray table in the upright position for landing and takeoff, but be sure to make full use of it throughout the flight. Get yourself a laptop stand and place it on top of the tray. Then angle your laptop screen so that you can see all that you need to while keeping your neck in a neutral position. Voila! Neck pain and toasted skin be gone.
If you’re like most airplane workers, you’re likely typing right on your laptop keyboard. Convenient as they may be, this cramped, straight keyboard forces your hands and elbows to pronate inward, which can lead to great discomfort in the short term and RSIs (Repetitive Stress Injuries) in the long term. The more you fly, the more you type in this way, the greater your chance of injury.
You’ll reap the greatest benefits from your laptop stand (and the palpable relief of the person in front of you) when you also use a split travel keyboard, which you can place in your lap. An ergonomic keyboard will guide your hands into the right position, keeping your wrists straight and your arms at a comfortable position by your side. It will also save your lap from scorching. While you won’t have room on the plane, you may also want an ergonomic travel mouse for airport layovers, as laptop trackpads strain your wrists. You may also want to consider purchasing a tablet for travel, as it will be less of a weight on the tray table and in a shoulder bag as you move through airports.
Air travel is particularly bad for ergonomics, but with a few simple accessories and behavioral changes, you can significantly increase your comfort—and do a much better job of safeguarding your long-term health. Just think about that when ground control delays you on the tarmac for two and a half hours.
Leah Kaminsky is a writer and the founder of Just Start Storytelling. She is currently working alongside ergonomic keyboard company, Goldtouch. You can follow her scintillating thoughts at @JustStartApps.