For the perpetually cold people out there, true misery is being stuck on an airplane, shivering and praying that your toes are still attached to your feet. When you ask an unsympathetic flight attendant if they could adjust the cabin temperature, your speech is slurry—a sign of hypothermia.
AAA estimates that 3.2 million Americans will fly to their holiday destinations this weekend. Yay? Summer air travel is particularly hazardous, and not just because you’re forced to push through endless groups of hyperactive children and hormonal teens in matching t-shirts, spazzing out on their way to Washington, D.C. or Paris or Disneyland with panicky chaperones who are clearly out of their depth (and god help you if you get one of these groups on your actual flight). Ironically, flying during the summer can be rough because it’s nice and warm out, meaning your lightweight wardrobe choices set you up for anguish in extra-frigid terminals. And airplane temperatures vary even more than usual: cabins can be steamy thanks to hours spent baking on the tarmac, or air-conditioned beyond reason in order to compensate for hours spent baking on the tarmac.
There’s an obvious solution here, which you already know: wear layers. A lightweight jacket, a cardigan, a t-shirt or tank top. This is great for planes that run hot or are just a little too chilly for your taste. But what of those flights when the cabin is fucking freezing? No matter what time of year, if you’re one of those people who’s always cold (and if you’re a woman, you can thank our special lady biology for that), you must always anticipate this possibility. Special care must be taken. Leave nothing to chance. I am this woman, and here is what I’ve learned.
- If you are able to select your seats in advance of your flight, make sure you’re at least two rows away from any exit doors—sometimes they’re not a problem, but sometimes they’re painfully drafty—and try to avoid the very back of the plane, where it’s a little colder. (The window seat can sometimes be a couple of degrees chillier too, especially if you’re leaning against the wall of the plane, but that’s a risk I’ve always been willing to take.)
- Wear pants. Seems obvious, but sometimes maxi dresses will give you all the warmth you need. Are you willing to roll the dice and leave it up to chance? Because if a flight is really cold, you’re fucked.
- Even if you’re flying from one steaming hot location to another, wear actual shoes that require some kind of sock. Ballet flats are risky; you want most of your foot to be covered. Lately I’ve been wearing these Supergas, which can be worn with no-show socks (opt for cotton or something a little thicker than sheers, which aren’t going to help you on the warmth front), and as a bonus, they look cute with skirts and dresses or whatever other casual summertime clothes you might be packing. Slip-on sneakers and Keds are also great. Functional, handy, and reasonably stylish: This is the travel gear trifecta.
- An extra pair of wool crew socks. (Or cashmere, if you’re fancy, but I wouldn’t recommend letting that nasty cabin come into contact with any fabric of value.) Basic cotton is not going to cut it. If it’s an overnight flight, I also bring a pair fuzzy slipper socks for extra warmth, though I find that they’re not particularly warm on their own.
- Bring a lightweight scarf, something that won’t take up much space if you ball it up and throw it in your carry-on. Oh, sure, you could bring that pashmina every magazine editor tells you is a must-have for a long weekend in Europe—a fashion accessory that doubles as throw blanket on airplanes, c’est parfait! No. Ce n’est pas parfait at all: If you’re cold enough to use it as a blanket, then you’re giving up your scarf. (This is no good: a warm neck and chest area can make a world of difference.) And if you decide you don’t need it in-flight, a pashmina takes up too much under-seat space than it’s worth.
- This one merits caps lock: THE CLÖUDZ TRAVEL BLANKET. Do not let the pointless umlat or janky packaging scare you away; now is not the time for vanity. You will find the Cloüdz blanket at almost any Hudson News, and if you roll it up tight enough, it takes up less room in your bag than that pashmina shit. (And don’t even bother with those fleece travel blankets, they’re too bulky.) I cannot count how many times I have pulled this baby out and wept with relief. It’s lightweight, compact, and makes an appreciable difference in personal comfort. I even bring it on overnight flights when you know the airline is going to give you a blanket anyhow, because those blankets are thin and sad and barely cover half of your body. Bonus: The Cloüdz works nicely as a small picnic blanket, and despite what the packaging says, I’ve thrown it in my washing machine without issue (gentle cycle or handwash, no dryer).
- Finally, for those among us who are so numb with cold that you’re willing to go the distance, here’s a hardcore tip from a colleague who is constantly traveling for work:
Right before takeoff (or earlier, depending on torture levels of the terminal temperature), I put on one of these disposable Thermacare heat wraps around the waist with the heated part on the lower back. They’re slightly pricey for a one-off use at around $6-10 each, depending on where you get them. And they aren’t environmentally friendly—you end up throwing away the whole wrap, which is a substantial piece of fabric with little magic heater patches. But they WORK! They take about 20 mins to heat up to max temp and then stay that way for at least 8 hours. Sometimes they’re almost too hot, but in a good way for people like me who run chilly.
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Flygirl is Jezebel’s travel blog dedicated to adventures big and small, tips and tricks for navigation, and exploring the world at large. Have a story or an idea? We’re always taking submissions; email us with “Flygirl” AND your topic in the subject line. No pitches in the comments, please.