Let’s face it: for many people sleeping on airplanes is a nightmare. Long-distance flights become a nightmare because you can’t get any sleep. And when you finally arrive, you’re exhausted. A good travel pillow might be the difference between night and day for your next trip. Let’s dive right in to search for the best travel pillow for your needs.

Image used under Creative Commons from ierdnall

Best Travel Pillows for Airplanes

Image
Name
Pros
Cons
Bottom line
The J Pillow Travel Pillow
  • really comfortable
  • quite compact even though it’s not an inflatable pillow
  • Not as portable as other travel pillows
The Cabeau Memory Foam Evolution Pillow
  • you can sleep forward or backward
  • compact and handy
  • might be too big for some travelers
AirComfy Travel Pillow
  • easily inflatable – inflation level of your choice
  • small, yet comfortable
  • Not as comfy as other travel pillows
  • Flimsy material
Trtl Pillow
  • compact – packs easily
  • control level of support easily
  • might lack in height for taller people
The Travelmate Memory Foam Neck Pillow<
  • inflatable – really compact after deflating
  • attaches to the seat
  • Not as durable as other travel pillows
  • Too firm for some users

The J Pillow Travel Pillow


This travel pillow won Britain’s “Invention Of The Year” award in 2013. It is designed to prevent your head from falling forward while you are sleeping. It has ample chin support and holds your head and neck in the optimal position. You’ll really feel like you are lying down when you use this pillow while in your seat on your airplane, bus or train.

Many customers like it so much that they find themselves using it at home in chairs, sofas and beds. Those who need to sleep upright in bed for medical purposes swear by this super soft pillow. One of its best features is the fact that it is simple to carry. It folds down to a size that is much smaller than the typical “U” shaped pillow. You can compress it down into a tiny space or clip it to your hand luggage with the convenient snap loop fastener. In terms of criticisms, some people actually found it quite difficult to fit the pillow into the carry-on luggage. You can use this pillow in many positions – watch the video below to learn more.

You can compress it down into a tiny space or clip it to your hand luggage with the convenient snap loop fastener. In terms of criticisms, some people actually found it quite difficult to fit the pillow into the carry-on luggage. You can use this pillow in many positions – watch the video below to learn more.

Let’s take a look at what people who have bought this pillow have to say about it (quotes pulled from Amazon).

I bought this for the long trudge to South Africa and I was not disappointed. What a difference. I know it is strange looking and a bit tricky at first, but once I got it all figured out I was able to sleep. That was a first–sleep on an airplane.

Both of us used the J-Pillow for our nine hour trip to Munich and back. We just squeezed the pillows and moved them around until we found a comfortable position. My husband was surprised to find that his pillow worked for him and he slept quite a bit. He’s happy I ordered one for him. I, too had luck. I made sure the pillow firmly supported my chin (no dropping chin to suddenly wake me) and that there was plenty of cushion over my right shoulder for my head to lean on. I slept off and on for much of the trip. This was a first for me in many years of flying.

I also use the J pillow when I am on an airplane, it supports the neck and allows you to nap in a natural position because it can cradle the side of your head.

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The Cabeau Memory Foam Evolution Pillow And Small Bag


Cabeau provides this travel pillow with a handy small travel bag that allows you to shrink the pillow down to a quarter of its normal size. It can even attach itself to your luggage. The pillow also comes with free memory foam earplugs as well. It is built with a memory foam core for the ultimate in quality. It actually responds to the pressure that your neck and head put against it. The pillow comes with a washable velour cover so that you can wash out all that grime and those nasty germs.

The pillow comes with a washable velour cover so that you can wash out all that grime and those nasty germs. There’s even adjustable front toggles to hold the pillow in position.Buyers of this pillow especially love its raised side supports that provide 360 degrees of comfort for the chin and head. They also rave about the flat back cushion that doesn’t push the head forward. Many other travel pillows lack this feature. Most users claim that this travel pillow allows them to sleep for hours at a time without suffering any neck pain.

In terms of negatives, a few have complained that the pillow is too large and that there should be varying sizes available instead of a simple one size fits all. Some have also complained that the pillow causes headphones to ride upward so that they pinch the ears. While some find it easy to fit the pillow back into its stuff sack, others find that it is a bit of a hassle to roll it back up.

In case you want to learn how to use the pillow, watch the video below. While it’s an advertisement, it still provides all the info about the pillow you need.

Here’s what buyers said about this pillow in reviews on Amazon.

I just got back from a trip to Hawaii. This product made traveling so much easier. In particular – the fact that you can attach the neck clasp makes the product into a forward leaning pillow. I can lean back in the airplane seat, wrap the neck rest around with the space/opening in back, click the clasp closed, then allow my head to rest FORWARD.(..) This made sleep on an airplane possible for the first time for me.

I am not a good sleeper on airplanes. So for a trip from the US to India, sitting in an economy seat, I wanted help — something sturdy enough to support my head, yet soft enough for comfort. Yhe Evolution Pillow looked promising. I purchased it and it kept its promise. I slept unlike a log, but much better than I expected to. I arrived without a stiff neck.

I have not had much luck with airplane pillows, so when I was asked to review this one, I hesitated. I am now so glad I accepted, as this is really a wonderful pillow.

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AirComfy Travel Pillow


AirComfy is an inflatable travel pillow. A few quick breaths and it’s ready to go. Unlike many recommended travel pillows this one is a low-profile pillow. That makes it a great choice for anyone who doesn’t enjoy neck pillow or finds them somewhat claustrophobic. Since AirComfy is both low-profile and inflatable, it doesn’t take a lot of space after deflating (yet a bit more than you would have thought). On the back of the pillow you there is an elastic band you can use to strap it to the headrest. Just find the perfect spot for the pillow and strap it on so it stays in place even when you move. Last but not least, it’s really easy to clean – a damp cloth will do the trick. No need for washing every time it gets dirty. As for the negatives, some users say it’s not as durable as other pillows because of the flimsy material. However, these reviewers believe the AirComfy is worth a try:

On the back of the pillow you there is an elastic band you can use to strap it to the headrest. Just find the perfect spot for the pillow and strap it on so it stays in place even when you move. Last but not least, it’s really easy to clean – a damp cloth will do the trick. No need for washing every time it gets dirty.

As for the negatives, some users say it’s not as durable as other pillows because of the flimsy material. However, these reviewers believe the AirComfy is worth a try:

I bought this travel pillow for my semi-annual red-eye flight from California to Boston. Over the years I have tried different travel pillows and this one is by far the best and the last one I will have to buy. It is impossible to be completely comfortable for sleeping on a plane, but this really kept my head up comfortably for on and off snoozing.

Pros: Vary inflaction level allowed me to get a good fit.
The texture is comfortable, and doesn’t make you feel like you’re going to slide off.

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Trtl Pillow


This travel pillow is unlike any other in this list. It looks more like a scarf than a pillow after you put it on. Speaking of which, you put it on in a somewhat similar manner to putting on a scarf. Just don’t be surprised when someone asks you how do you manage to sleep with a scarf instead of an actual pillow.Trtl pillow is small and you can fit it pretty much anywhere, so you don’t have to worry about finding a perfect spot for it. The fabric is soft and the whole thing is washable. The pillow is designed to prevent stiff neck and shoulder soreness and based on the overwhelming number of positive reviews, Trtl does a great job of making your travel as comfortable as it can get.

Some people find the pillow somewhat lacking in height. If that’s the case, try folding a blanket and placing it between your shoulder and the pillow. That should fix the issue.

Let’s take a look at reviews from Amazon customers:

I loved how the Trtl wrapped around my luggage, no added weight, yet held up my 8+ lb head. I looked fairly normal too- once I got the hang of putting it on[..]

I’ve had this for 2 months now and have used it on about 6 flights. Let me tell you it was the best investment I’ve ever made. You may look a little silly on the plan with this but it is well worth it for the comfort it provides. You can adjust it to many positions to provide support. It also keeps your neck warm.

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The Travelmate Memory Foam Neck Pillow


The Travelmate pillow is built with thermo-sensitive memory foam and adjusts to your specific neck size. There’s an elastic strap that lets you connect it to your luggage with ease. It also comes with a machine washable dark blue velour cover.

Those who’ve used the Travelmate pillow have found that it can be easily adjusted to a variety of positions and it really does empower one to sleep with ease. There is excellent support and even those with extraordinarily large heads will find that they don’t feel any neck pain after using it. Yet you’ll be able to fit it in your backpack and bring to and from the airport or train station with ease.

There is excellent support and even those with extraordinarily large heads will find that they don’t feel any neck pain after using it. Yet you’ll be able to fit it in your backpack and bring to to and from the airport or train station with ease.

A handful of other buyers have complained that its foam just squishes downward and does not give the head ample support.Here are a few quotes from reviews of this pillow on Amazon.

Loved this pillow. Was very comfortable and helped me with actually sleeping comfortably while seated in an airplane seat on long trip from California to Puerto Rico.

Easy to cart around through the airport, squishy so it molds perfectly, really comfortable. Makes sleeping in tiny airplane chairs not so awful!

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Additional Accessories to Help you Sleep While Traveling

Having a good travel pillow definitely helps in getting some sleep during long flights. There are, however, other tools that may help you get some rest while flying. The first thing is an eye mask which helps with limiting your exposure to light. Most people fall asleep much easier in the evening and during the night than in the morning or afternoon. Light exposure is one of the reasons why – we are conditioned to tie lack of light to night and sleeping time.

Another thing that usually prevents people from dozing off during the flight is the noise. A pair of good earplugs can take care of that for only a couple bucks. Having those two in place should help you with sleeping well (or at least much better than you did before) during your next flight. If ear plugs aren’t enought, you can consider adding noise cancelling headphones to the equation. These will ensure that all the sounds are blocked.

Image
Name
Pros
Cons
Bottom line
Eye mask by Awesome Square
Eye Mask by Awesome Square
  • does its job
Hearos Ear Plugs - Xtreme Protection Series
Hearos Ear Plugs – Xtreme Protection Series
  • really effective at blocking sounds

Eye Mask by Awesome Square

Eye mask by Awesome Square
There’s not much one can say about a sleeping mask – this one by Awesome Square is praised by buyers for being very comfortable and doesn’t sleep. It comes with free 2 pairs of soft foam ear plugs which makes it a perfect couple for your next flight.Let’s take a look at what buyers on Amazon have to say about it.

The mask is so luxurious and so soft and I’ll spray some lavender spray on it before I use it and sleep here I come! Believe me, you will want to try this silky smooth sleeping mask that keeps all light out so you can get your hours of sleep. With the included ear plugs, you’ll be ready for a good night’s rest!

This mask was incredibly soft, as advertised. It blocked out light perfectly. I have insomnia and don’t always sleep the best. I put this mask on and woke up the next morning rejunevated.

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Hearos Ear Plugs – Xtreme Protection Series

Hearos Ear Plugs - Xtreme Protection Series
Hearos Xtreme Protection have the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) equal 33 which is considerably higher than other popular ear plugs (hence the word Xtreme). That means they’re really powerful when it comes to blocking sounds and seem to be the best choice for airplanes. Customers like the fact that those ear plugs are easy to roll up and insert and are really good at blocking sounds. They neither fall out nor hurt the ear canal for almost all users (there are always few exceptions).Here are two quotes pilled from reviews on the product on Amazon.

I wish I could rate these 4.5 stars because they definitely block out sound. Airplane noise, bars letting out at 3 a.m. under your hotel room, for example, are gone! Switched between 3 different kinds of earplugs over a 1 year trip to find our favorites.

No plugs ca keep all the sound out but these are pretty effective. I combined them with noise canceling earphones and and was able to sleep on an airplane for the first time (in conjunction with sleep cushions I also bought on Amazon).

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What to Look in an Airplane Pillow?

The two most important things to look for in a pillow for airplanes are comfort and compactness. The first one is obvious – you need to be able to rest and sleep comfortably while collecting your frequent flyer miles. The second one should be pretty obvious too – you don’t want the pillow to take a lof of space in your carry-on (or hand) luggage.

Ideally, the less space it takes the better. Because of that many people decide to go with inflatable pillows as they easily fit in your pocket or purse. The effort needed to setup the pillow is important too. If you’re not comfortable with spending a few minutes inflating the pillow and getting it into the right position, take that into account when making your choice.

If you’re a budget-conscious buyer, consider how often you plan to use the pillow. If you need it for only a couple of flights, choose a cheaper model or consider borrowing one from someone else.

If, on the other hand, you’re a frequent flyer and you’ll use the pillow often, choosing the best possible travel pillow seems to be the way to go. You will use the pillow time and time again so the cost per flight will be minuscule and paying a little more (provided you’re getting more from the pillow) really makes sense.

How to Choose the Right Airplane Pillow for You

Travel pillows come in various shapes, sizes, and materials, how do you know which is the right product for you? Consider these tips:

Shapes

Travel pillows come in an array of shapes but the most common ones are the U and J-shaped pillows as well as rectangular shape. Because a travel pillow rests on either shoulder, we recommend opting for the traditional U-shape pillow.

The design is versatile, allowing you to rest your head on either side of the shoulders. This shape provides excellent chin support too! Rectangular shaped pillows work great during long flights but they can be cumbersome to use when you’re shifting sleeping positions all the time and this can disturb your sleep.

Filling

What’s inside your travel pillow is just as important as its exterior cover. The most expensive travel pillows are those made from memory foam. This material is dense and soft, providing ample support where you need it. Memory foam also molds to the unique contours of your head, boosting comfort.

However, because memory foam reacts to body heat, it develops heat spots so it’s not the most practical choice unless you’ll be spending in an air-conditioned area throughout your journey.

Image used under Creative Commons from Timothy Brown

Travel pillows filled with polyester fiber is a cheaper alternative to memory foam airplane pillow. The material provides soft support and it’s very durable. However, polyester fibers do a poor job at molding to the contours of your body.

Inflatable neck pillows are great especially if you’re trying to save space from your carry-alls. The great thing about inflatable airplane pillows is that the thickness and firmness are completely adjustable. The pillow also rolls away conveniently so it doesn’t take much room in your bag.

Weight and Size

Unlike mattresses sizes that are defined by single, double, queen or king size, dimensions define airplane pillows’ sizes. Generally, U-shaped airplane pillows have the average dimensions of 10″ x 12″ x 3″/5″. On the other hand, airplane pillows for kids have dimension of 9″ x 9″ x 3″.

How to Fall Asleep During a Flight?

When it comes to falling asleep, for some people it might be tricky. Here are some ways to help you fall asleep:

  • Light sleep deprivation – sleep a few hours less before the day of the flight – you’ll be tired and sleepy to begin with
  • Supplements – Magnesium, Collagen and Krill Oil[*], Melatonin might be worth trying as well
  • Sleeping pills (pay attention to side-effects and don’t take a pill for the first time during the flight, test it out at home first)
  • Meditation – there are many guided meditation excercises that help falling asleep.

The list above isn’t complete by any means. Not all of the mentioned ways will help you. You need to do some testing on your own to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.

If you’re a frequent flyer testing a couple of things on each flight will make a huge difference – after a couple flights you should have a few methods that work for you and which you can use on all of your future travels.