Have Pillow, Will Travel. So Long as You’re a Girl

LET’S TALK FOR A MINUTE ABOUT PILLOWS.  I’m vexed and perplexed by the widespread phenomenon of teenage girls carrying giant fluffy pillows onto airplanes. I’m uncertain when exactly this trend got started, but you see it everywhere.

Granted it’s a helpful idea, now that many carriers no longer dispense even tiny, non-fluffy pillows on all but the longest flights.  In a window seat, putting a pillow between your body and the sidewall creates a comfy sleeping surface.

The trouble is, people like me are out of the club.   Grown-up men can’t walk through airports with giant fluffy pillows unless we’re willing to get laughed at.  I’ve seen thousands of girls carrying pillows, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a man or boy carrying one.  We’re stuck with those stupid inflatable neck brace things.  The other night I watched a flight boarding for Barcelona.  Like most midsummer flights to Europe, it was loaded with kids between ages 17 and 25.  No fewer than 25 girls had brought oversized pillows from home.  Total count for the guys: zero.

This isn’t right. To hell with dignity, it’s time to rise up and break the pillow barrier.   Who will be first?

I’m thinking we should organize a march — a line of men strutting proudly through the concourse, giant pillows proudly in hand.

“We’re men, we’re strong, this is true,
Fluffy pillows aren’t just for you!
Downy soft, pastel blues,
Come on girls, let us snooze!”

Later, in the parking lot, we can toss a few of those neck braces into a bonfire.

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I smell a gold here mine for airport merchants.  Why not a pillow shop right there in the terminal?  Unlike most of the high-end crap sold at airports (watches, jewelry, massage chairs), here would be something genuinely useful.  Instead of lugging those pillows from home, the girls could pick one up gate-side for a few bucks.  You’d have a choice of foam or feather, and a selection of cotton pillowcases to pick from. To entice the guys, cases could be emblazoned with sports team and beer logos.

Passengers wouldn’t need take-along pillows, maybe, if airlines tried a little harder to make their seats more comfortable. There’s only so much you can do with an economy class chair, but as I’ve written in the past, some inexpensive tweaks would go a long way. The problem with economy isn’t a lack of legroom or even a lack of space, per se. The problem is the often gruesome ergonomics of the space that exists. There’s no lumbar support; arm-rests are at the wrong height, tray tables are the wrong size and shape, etc.

And headrests. Lots of planes feature headrests in economy nowadays. It’s a nice idea, but almost always the things are flimsy and poorly designed. The wedges don’t fit snugly enough around, and so your head simply rolls over them. They’re useless, basically. Instead of investing slightly more for a product that works well, airlines spend slightly less for something that doesn’t work at all. Not sure that I see the strategy there.

And here’s some advice: if you’re going to have pillows on your aircraft, they should be good pillows. On most Asian or European airlines, economy class riders get a comfortable pillow wrapped in attractive fabric. It’s neither a significant nor expensive item, but it’s a nice one that you can actually sleep against. On an American carrier, assuming there are pillows at all, they tend to be flimsy wedges of foam about the size of a slice of bread, with coverings that tear apart like tissue.

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17 Responses to “Have Pillow, Will Travel. So Long as You’re a Girl”
  1. Robert says:

    Ask the Pilot is an awesome website!

    I am with you on the chair ergonomics, there would be more legroom if there weren’t so many steel bar supports under the seats, maybe someone could design a seat that was stable without so many impediments under the seats, it seems the seat technology has not changed in 30 years.

  2. Msconduct says:

    I think I’ve finally figured out the girl with pillow phenomenon. I was in the US earlier this year and on a Seattle-New York flight I spotted two teenage girls asleep flopped forward on their pillows which they’d put on their open tray tables. I’m guessing this is why it’s a teenage girl-only thing – anyone not waiflike would snap that sucker off like a dry twig.

    Now if you can just explain the trend I saw in the US this year of people wearing those collar-style pillows in the airport…

  3. Stephen R. Stapleton says:

    I suppose my being a 55-year old gay man, that is someone who endured taunts as a kid, difficulties with my social sphere when I came out WAY back in the late-seventies (just a decade or so after Stonewall), and a person complete unconcerned with the societally-imposed sex roles, I regularly take a nice large pillow with me on flights. A big pillow is about the only thing one can do these days to make flying even minimally acceptable. I suggest one made of a foam core with feather quilt around it.

    A few years ago, a carrier who shall remain nameless (United) decided my pillow counted as carrying on luggage and insisted I check my other bag, so I modified my travel coat to have the pillow zip on to the back so the coat and pillow are one item. The coat is my own invention. It carries a basic set of necessities (one change of clothes, medication, reading material, pens, note pad, cell phone, chargers, medications, and other useful things) and can either be light weight for summer or, with the zip in liner, heavier weight for winter.

    I can understand, as a pilot with airline uniform standard to maintain, how such a coat might not work for Patrick, but perhaps his wheeled suitcase could be modified to have a pillow zip on to it.

  4. Karadina says:

    I have been carrying pillows (and small cashmere blankies) onto planes for years, and I am long past the time of being a teenage girl. Captain Patrick is right: you can wedge those suckers between you and the plane wall (using your coat or duffel carryon) to fill in the hole between wall and armrest first) and be just about as comfortable as you’re ever going to be in economy class. Which is why I always, always get a window seat. The view’s nice, but the pillow possibilities are better. On my last trip to England, I even had a blow-up pillow to go under the nice soft one, for a firmer base. Both deflated and actual pillow, plus the cashmere blankie, were in my soft duffel bag carryon, and I still had another carryon for all my food and other stuff. Not bad, really.

  5. adam says:

    I am a 30yr old male (straight, if that matters) and have carried the same full sized pillow with me for 10 years. It is down so it can be stuffed in a bag quite easily. It has gone on every flight with me since I acquired it… except my most recent long haul flight. For some unknown reason I determined the humidity has clumped the down and it was not worth bringing. Worst flight of my life. All the red wine in the world couldnt get me comfortable and I did not sleep a wink. Never again. Time to go pillow shopping.

  6. Elizabeth Matheson says:

    I take my pillow along too — I usually sleep after takeoff.

  7. Dave M. says:

    If I ran the world (don’t laugh, it could happen) my first act would to ban the heavy-guage wire that runs along the perimeter of the seat-pocket.

    My long-legged homeboys (and girls) know what I’m talking about.

    Seriously, it is flat-out impossible for me to sit in an airplane seat without that wire digging into my knees.

    Second act? SkyMall. You’re outta here!

  8. Tom Hill says:

    The pillows go on the opened tray table here in Asia. Faces go down and the snoring starts. Here’s an idea: sacrifice one economy class chair for one of those sitting massage chairs and send the FAs to massage school. The airline would make a fortune.

  9. […] Do you take your pillow on holiday with you? Well, you should! It should be so comfortable that even just one night without it would be considered “a pain in the neck”! http://www.askthepilot.com/pillows-on-planes/ […]

  10. Jacques says:

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    Will you kindly drop me a mail?

  11. MarkM says:

    Passengers who carry full size pillows on airplanes with them are obnoxious. I have been more than once seated next to a teenage girl who was in an aisle or middle seat and whose huge pillow kept getting pushed all over me. I don’t want your drool-encrusted pillow on me, taking up my already scant seat space. I also don’t understand why someone would want to take their pillow, that they put their face on, on one of the germiest environments you will come across.
    Furthermore, all these girls who carry pillows tend to come to the airport looking like they just rolled out of bed, grabbing their pillow as they rolled, and not even bothering to change out of their pajamas. I have seen actual pajama pants, but more often than not the “uniform” of these girls is a tee shirt, short simple gym shorts, and flip flops, and invariably these girls will start to complain that they are cold once the flight gets to altitude. Gee, maybe you should have worn something different – you didn’t realize planes get cold? Maybe you could use your big freaking pillow to cover your legs, then it would be out of my face. People like this should not be allowed to fly.

  12. Eirik says:

    Too funny! Sign me up for the pillow march!

    http://www.amazon.com/Skyrest-SkyRest-Travel-Pillow/dp/B000VKP6VW

    As long as I dont get one of these between me and the aisle.
    Chances are I would take a pen and puncture it.

  13. Melissa says:

    Rental pillows are already being done. I’ve been on more than one flight recently that had blankets and pillows for rent in economy class, for something like $4. Might have been Delta / “Star Alliance Partner”

  14. Kristina says:

    This post isn’t recent, so I don’t know if you’ll see this comment or not, but I take exception to a small piece:

    “We’re stuck with those stupid inflatable neck brace things.”

    I absolutely LOVE my neck brace pillow. I caved and bought one last year, and now I refuse to go without it on any flight that’s longer than four hours. Which, since I live in Alaska, is just about all of them. It may look ridiculous, but it allows me to actually sleep in economy class.

    I’m female (though not of the teenaged variety), but I refuse to carry a pillow through an airport. Not because of how it looks, as I couldn’t care less about what people think of my appearance when I’m traveling, but because it’s just too big. My goal when I’m flying is to have as little as possible to cart through the airports. My neck brace pillow can go in my backpack. A regular pillow is just one more thing I have to lug around, and also remember not to leave at the bar!

    As for the gender disparity? I say, Men, carry your fluffy, comfy pillows with pride and the gleeful knowledge that you’ll be happily resting while your stubborn compatriots are wide awake with their weird perceptions of how masculinity is defined.

  15. Colin says:

    I am about to board a jetstar flight with about 100 school kids all carrying their own full size pillow.
    i was told once by a cabin crew member on an International flight that taking full sized pillows on planes is against FAA laws, as they are not fire rated and when the plane goes down everyone will be fighting to get out over 100 pillows in different stages of
    combustion.
    I can’t find any written rules on this but it makes sense to me.

  16. ashley says:

    I take my “live longer pillow-explorer” on holiday with me, is very easy carry it around and it is suitable for jet lag, Scientific studies have confirmed its positive effects on sleep. You can check it out at livelongerpillow.com