How to Micro-Nest in Economy

When Martha Rose Ormerod, an engineering student from Wales, travels by air, she has a ritual. As soon as she is seated in her tiny economy-class seat, she sets out to personalize the space.

Ms. Ormerod, 29, arranges a blanket and pillow, and the other essentials — “water bottle, book, lip balm and moisturizer” — are stored close at hand. It gets more complicated when she travels with her boyfriend, who is much taller and sometimes asks to store some of his things in her space.

Bernadette Berger, a designer of airplane interiors, calls this “micro-nesting,” and it happens a lot on airplanes.

Travelers in the premium cabin have more space and more flight attendants. But for economy travelers to have a comfortable flight, many rely on their own ingenuity and, increasingly, specialized products.

“There’s a whole industry trying to support the passenger with products that are not being provided by the airline,” Ms. Berger said.

Fionnuala Browning, 51, a librarian in Greenwich, Conn., travels each year to Australia. On such long flights, she uses several products to help doze off.

“When I settle in to sleep, I do it all,” she said. “My feet are in the hammock. I have compression socks on. I have the blanket and my own wrap.” A neck pillow, ear plugs and a contoured eye mask round out the preparations. “It’s a 10-minute setup, but then I’m ready.”

Each passenger group micro-nests in different ways, Ms. Berger said.

That person wiping the tray table? First-time parent, Ms. Berger said. Business travelers are sending their last emails before takeoff. Boomers are getting out their e-readers. Millennials set about “charging their devices, that’s super-duper important.”

At least one company is trying to capitalize on micro-nesting. In December, the London-based industrial design firm New Territory unveiled a product, called the Interspace, that is an upholstered seat back with foldout “wings.” Airlines could install this on premium economy seats, said Luke Miles, New Territory’s chief creative director, and someday provide better support for an economy passenger’s upper body and head.

If, when and how this product will be available to travelers is unclear. Until then, here are some products and hacks for settling into a tiny nest.

FOOT HAMMOCK So about that foot hammock Ms. Browning mentioned. She discovered these mesh slings on Qantas where they are installed on the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A380 to help travelers stretch out. Several companies sell them.

NECK WALLET Repurpose a trade show identity pouch, or purchase a neck wallet with a clear outside window and a larger zip-top pocket with space for a passport and phone. If you wear it from the time you leave the house until you arrive at your destination — and especially on the plane — you’ll always know where your phone is. Several varieties can be found online.

THE DO-EVERYTHING SCARF Many airlines have done away with blankets in economy. A washable, mid-weight scarf, at least 24 by 60 inches, can be used as a blanket, a travel pillow or a face mask. It can also act as an emergency towel or a make-it-yourself foot hammock.

SLEEP PRODUCTS Eye shades, ear plugs and neck pillows abound along with soft (albeit odd-looking) helmets that incorporate all three. Head harnesses strap the head to the seat’s back to prevent the neck-destroying bobblehead. Another option is to wear a hoodie on the plane and convert it to a neck pillow/eyeshade when it’s time to sleep. Find directions at many online sites including this one.

PORTABLE FOOD The decision to carry a reusable food container and utensils is between you and Mother Earth. Rigid containers take up more space in your carry-on but in addition to being green, they can relieve the anxiety of not knowing when you will eat next. Any travel lunch box with a good seal will do, or check out Black + Blum.

AIRSICKNESS BAG Tucked into every seat back pocket is the waterproof airsickness bag that is very useful for trash. Passengers ought to keep their space clean, Ms. Berger said, “and keep it clean for the next person.” So be the passenger you want the entire plane to be and keep your micro-nest tidy.

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