2525: Air Travel Packing List

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Air Travel Packing List
I know the etiquette is controversial, but I think it's rude when the person in front of me reclines their seat into the bell of my trumpet.
Title text: I know the etiquette is controversial, but I think it's rude when the person in front of me reclines their seat into the bell of my trumpet.


This comic is another in a series of comics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The comic is about a proposed air-travel packing list, and the humor stems from the fact that many people have not been flying during the pandemic, and thus they might have forgotten what to pack. So Randall is so kind as to provide a packing list with 20 items. However, apart from the first item, the rest is not something you would or even should normally bring on an airplane.

Many of the items are already found on passenger airplanes, some items would seem like they could be useful on a plane, while others could actually be useful in case of a plane crash (but only if you survive), while many others would be counter-productive to safe air travel, even in the event of a crash. Below in the table is a quick summary of each item.

The title text references the idea that there is a trumpet for each passenger provided by the airline, which is item number 16 on the list. This item also states that you, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, should remember to bring your own mouthpiece for the trumpet as a safety measure.

The trumpet idea is then combined with the common debate regarding reclining your seat in airplanes. About half of the people think that reclining is rude as it takes up the space of the person behind you. The other half think that seats recline for a reason and the person in a seat has the rights to the space behind them. See for instance this video about such a debate. Reclining a seat has resulted in actual physical fights on board airplanes.

Here it seems that Randall sides with the anti-recliners, although maybe only in the context of the comic, because he states that reclining would prevent him from playing his trumpet, as the seat hits the bell of the trumpet. The person in front could certainly argue that playing the trumpet behind them would be very annoying, to which Randall could reply that because the trumpet is provided by the airline, he has the right to play it. This would add a new layer to the debate. This could also be Randall's way of arguing against the right to recline a seat, just because it is possible.

Table of items

Item Explanation
Seat cushion This item is a play on sports stadium bleachers (sports stadiums were another venue commonly closed during the pandemic), because many sports fans find stadium bleachers uncomfortable and prefer to bring their own seat cushions. Airlines usually provide their own seat cushions for passengers, which are specially designed to float in water in the event of a plane crash.
Parachute Parachutes are normally used to slow down your falling out of the sky to a relatively safe speed in case of a severe problem with your aircraft, and are routinely used as a safety device by (para)glider pilots, test pilots, military aircraft crew and in similar situations when being unable to land safely is a significant concern. A parachute won't be very useful in a typical passenger airplane (even a small one) as there is no easy way to safely exit such a plane in-flight. Even the airplanes used for skydiving need to be specifically designed or modified for that purpose, such as having wide sliding doors that are unaffected by airflow. However, there were individual cases of people being ejected or sucked out of a passenger airplane, often during partial or complete break-up of the aircraft; in such case a parachute could arguably be useful.[citation needed] Famously, D. B. Cooper jumped from an airplane in flight, with a parachute but was never knowingly seen again.
Wing glue Probably to repair wings in the event of damage, potentially in a crash. This would be tricky (but not necessarily impossible) to apply mid-flight. This is the first of several items that are potentially useful to the flight crew or maintenance teams, but would not be useful or appropriate for passengers to bring aboard. Minor repairs (including to the wings) can be made by service personnel using speed tape, tape specially designed for high-speed applications. Speed tape might be mistaken for ordinary duct tape by passengers.
Air horn An air horn uses compressed air to make a very loud noise, very easily. This may be important for drawing attention to yourself in the event of a crash. Typically, emergency life-jackets on a plane are provided with a light and whistle for this purpose. The noise of an air horn might prove more effective for this purpose than a whistle, but it would become useless as soon as the compressed air ran out. Its inclusion is probably meant to suggest that the word 'air' in its name indicates that it's designed for use in an aircraft. Using one in a non-emergency situation would infuriate everyone else on the plane.[citation needed]
Sextant In combination with star charts, a sextant can be used to determine your position based on the location of stars in the night sky. Alternately, in combination with an accurate clock, a sextant can be used to find the position of the sun relative to the aircraft to determine the vehicle's position. In a crash, you could use this to find your way to a safe place, but sextants are rarely used, and most people are not trained on how to operate one. GPS will also allow you to find your position, is built into many phones, and is faster and easier to use than a sextant. If you've got a homing beacon, it probably makes more sense to just activate that and wait for help to arrive.

Until the early 1980s, long-range airplanes had a flight navigator who used sextants and celestial navigation to determine the position of the airplane. Interestingly, it was much more accurate than early inertial navigation systems, and the accuracy of celestial navigation is still useful today. What made the sextant redundant was the INS' lower workload - the error accumulated by the INS during a long oceanic flight could always and easily be mitigated by other means, for example with VOR/NDB radio beacons.

A form of the sextant has also famously been used in spacecraft navigation and similarly applied star trackers have been used extensively to guide space-going craft ranging from suborbital missiles to interplanetary probes.

Nose plugs and goggles for pressure Nose plugs and goggles are commonly used in swimming but would be useless for dealing with cabin pressurization or depressurization. Since your mouth and nose are interconnected, nose plugs would be useless on their own. Trying to hold your breath in a sudden depressurization event will cause lung damage, so nose plugs wouldn't be a good thing, even if you could also seal off your mouth. Goggles would also not be useful. During depressurization, the air would just seep out. During pressurization, they would just become uncomfortable and difficult to remove.

Goggles were a typical piece of equipment for pilots of open cockpit airplanes, whose popularity peaked before the pandemic.[citation needed] Nose plugs may be a reference to the spark plugs used on the engines of such vehicles.

Or nose plugs may be mentioned as it is similar to, but a silly mistake to use in place of, the ear plugs some people use on airplanes to help prevent discomfort as a result of a change in pressure.

Airplane shoes Airlines typically don't require the use of special footwear for passengers, nor do they provide special shoes. Before emergency egress, certain shoes (like high heels) must be discarded, though. Aircrew are also prohibited from wearing such shoes. May also be a reference to boat shoes, which are designed to reduce slipping on the wet decks of watercraft, or Japanese toilet shoes, which are put on as a sanitation measure when entering a toilet.
Navigation crystal Mystical form of navigation, presumably either for navigation during flight or to help you get home after a crash.

Crystals that polarize light can be used to find the sun on cloudy days and during twilight, a so-called Sunstone, but despite historical records and archeological findings it has been difficult to replicate their utility.

Spare batteries in case the plane runs out Airplanes will generally use more power than any battery small enough to be easily packed in a bag could provide. The aircraft will generally use either 115V AC at 400Hz or 28V DC, both of which are very uncommon outside of aviation. The airplane will almost never use its own batteries in-flight anyway, getting its electric power from the main engines, the APU, or, in emergencies, the ram air turbine or similar generating device. The batteries are generally only used on the ground when the engines are not running. Could be to charge a phone or similar device if the plane runs out of outlets.
Birdseed So one can attract birds. In practice, this wouldn't work for multiple reasons (high speed, altitude, and sealed windows being some of most obvious ones) and would pose a significant hazard of birds getting stuck in an engine if it did. Spreading birdseed before boarding could work to attract birds, but would be seen as misconduct by airport authorities, as attracting birds close to aircraft would pose a danger to the aircraft. Alternatively, birdseed can be used to attract birds after surviving a crash, e.g. to catch them for food.
Homing beacon Once activated, a homing beacon will send out a continuous radio signal so that rescuers can find your location. These can be very useful in a plane crash, but airplanes already carry them (Emergency position-indicating radiobeacons), so you don't need to pack one yourself. Incidentally, the COSPAS-SARSAT system for locating distressed airplanes and ships was a cooperation started by the United States and the Soviet Union, and it was an elegant and simple solution that uses the Doppler effect of radio signals for accurate location - long before the Global Positioning System.
Meteorite antidote Meteorites are pieces of space rocks that make it all the way to the ground. They can cause injury but they aren't generally poisonous[citation needed], so an antidote would not help. The antidote could be an antidote to something else, possibly snakebite and be derived from meteorites but meteorites also lack verified medicinal properties.
USB wing connector This is just a wire connector, but because it has wing in the name is on the list. Alternatively, the plane wings connect by USB, and this can be used to reattach wings. Airplanes usually use the ARINC 429 protocol (or, increasingly, TCP/IP, RS427, RS232, or even CANBUS) instead of USB protocols to facilitate electronic communication between flight computers and the engines, for example.
Emergency siren Very much like air horn, would be useful for helping with locating you in the event of crash. It shares many of the same downsides, but would also more likely get damaged by water in case of a water landing.
Spare flaps Flaps can be moved to adjust the lift/drag ratio of a wing, and are generally deployed during takeoff and landing when the aircraft's speed is slower. Flaps are very large and mounted on the wing, outside the passenger compartment, so bringing spares would be very difficult and completely useless. Flaps failing to deploy can usually be remedied by just landing at a longer runway.
Mouthpiece (pandemic restriction; airlines still provide the trumpet) A part of a brass instrument like a trumpet. Randall jokes that trumpets are provided on airplanes (which would be very obnoxious to other passengers), but due to the pandemic you cannot use a shared mouthpiece. (You shouldn't share mouthpieces for anything anyway, in general.)
Luggage ballast Likely to make plane more balanced. While balancing weight in a plane is indeed a real problem, it is solved by rearranging luggage and adjusting engine power slightly. Introducing ballast would mean additional weight for no real reason.

Alternatively, while a common passenger issue is to have hand- and/or hold-luggage that exceeds the airline's personal allowance, this person has underweight baggage and does not wish to 'waste' the difference, so bulks it up. (Noting that someone already with the rest of the items on this list is unlikely to suffer this 'problem'.)

Flag (international flights) To identify your country of origin. Other flags are also used to communicate between boats without electricity, in the event the boats are in distress, so they could be used in the event of a crash.
Decoy tickets Maybe these would used as a distraction so you can sneak onto the plane without paying?

But also a typical trope for fictional (and real life?) attempts to evade being tracked or followed. Buy tickets for one destination, that one assumes the opposition will be fully aware of, but also arrange for another set (probably with a 'clean' identity) for your intended destination and switch to using those once in the chaos of the departure-lounge.

Keys to the plane Although some people pushed for it after an airplane was stolen in the 2018 Horizon Air Q400 incident, most commercial planes do not require keys to start the engine(s) like a car does. Likewise, plane doors are not locked with a key. Instead, they are secured with a tamper seal. If a seal is found broken, the plane is thoroughly checked for any wrong-doing.


[A lists of 20 items is given in two columns with 10 items in each. Each item is preceded by a checkbox. Most items only take up one line, but in the left column two items take up two and in the right one item take up three, so they take up the same space. Above is a large heading, with an explanation beneath it.]
Air Travel Packing List
If you haven't flown in a while, you might not remember what you need to bring. Use this handy checklist to pack!
[Left column:]
☐ Seat cushion
☐ Parachute
☐ Wing glue
☐ Air horn
☐ Sextant
☐ Nose plugs and goggles for pressure
☐ Airplane shoes
☐ Navigation crystal
☐ Spare batteries in case the plane runs out
☐ Birdseed
[Right column:]
☐ Homing beacon
☐ Meteorite antidote
☐ USB wing connector
☐ Emergency siren
☐ Spare flaps
☐ Mouthpiece (Pandemic restriction; airlines still provide the trumpet)
☐ Luggage ballast
☐ Flag (International flights)
☐ Decoy tickets
☐ Keys to the plane

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I'll work on this one, so I don't get edit conflicted. PoolloverNathan[talk]UTSc 23:16, 6 October 2021 (UTC)

A lot of these items that are listed as needed during a crash are not that related to crashing but some things that paranoid potential passengers feel they should have anyway. Nutster (talk) 02:04, 7 October 2021 (UTC)

I had a teacher that was a retired engineer. He complained about working on an airplane and he wanted to design a lightweight floor, but the heel of high heeled shoes would pierce through so he had to make it heaver than he wanted. One can imagine an alternate world where the lighter floors were chosen, where airplane shoes would be some kind of pressure distributing shoe. 02:32, 7 October 2021 (UTC)

I thought airplane shoes was a play on boat shoes, which are a thing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boat_shoe Barmar (talk) 14:34, 7 October 2021 (UTC)

I think that the Flag for international flights is referring to a national flag not to a flag used for signaling messages. 03:20, 7 October 2021 (UTC)

Pedantry corner: parachutes don't keep you from falling out of the sky - they help you land safer when you do. 08:21, 7 October 2021 (UTC)

Like the old joke about falling out of a building: It's not the fall that kills you, it's the sudden stop at the end. Barmar (talk) 14:32, 7 October 2021 (UTC)

The mouthpiece may be a COVID-19 slur, referring to the requirement to cover your mouth -- 09:02, 7 October 2021 (UTC)

No I think it is just so you do not use the mouthpiece from the previous passenger because of the risk of covid-19. The idea that you before the pandemic would use the same mouth piece as multiple passengers before you is as gross as putting Toothpaste from your moth back in the tube again... :p --Kynde (talk) 06:58, 8 October 2021 (UTC)

Part of the joke may be that this list isn't for those who have travelled via plane but flown from cockpit. "so you can attract birds, and use THEM to fly the plane in case of crash" - What does that even mean? Bischoff (talk) 11:01, 7 October 2021 (UTC)

Some of those items could be from the computer game "Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zak_McKracken_and_the_Alien_Mindbenders Seat Cushion, Birdseed, Parachute.

My first interpretation of the mouthpiece and trumpet was an early style telephone that had a separate mouthpiece and trumpet style earpiece.

Ballast is routinely used on aircraft. The baggage handlers that load the plane will usually add temporary ballast as needed. The manufacturer and aircraft mechanics may install permanent ballast blocks in order to ensure that the center of gravity is within limits.

I will edit the main text shortly. It will be my very first non-comment edit on this site. https://www.flightliteracy.com/ballast/Hamjudo (talk) 17:01, 7 October 2021 (UTC)

Great to have you onboard. Did you expect to avoid editing conflict by writing here first? Or just information. Keep the input coming, if you write something that people disagree with it will be edited later. So no problem making mistakes. --Kynde (talk) 06:59, 8 October 2021 (UTC)

"Spare batteries in case the plane runs out" surely refers to the regulations against spare lithium batteries, not just to the absurdity of using such batteries to power the aircraft. Modernhemalurgist (talk) 22:50, 7 October 2021 (UTC)

Seat backs on airliners have reclined, probably since the introduction of the DC-3. Once upon a time, there was enough space between seats to allow the recline function to be used without strangling the person behind. This is no longer the case, especially in steerage ... er, sorry, economy class. The true violators of etiquette are the airlines and their seating practices. The airlines will, of course, reject the charge, and say that the etiquette violators are passengers who demand space but refuse to pay for it. The whole demonstrates human ability to accept the unacceptable, and to distract ourselves from prime causes, and responsibilities, by means of petty and meaningless disputes. 03:22, 8 October 2021 (UTC)

Yes, it's a shame this has become controversial. It should be obvious that, regardless of whether you recline your seat or not, you should try and be considerate to the person behind you. There's so little space in cattle class nowadays that it can be an uncomfortable experience, especially if you're tall (like I am). I remember one particularly awful flight where I didn't get to eat because the person in front of me wouldn't put their seat back to upright even for the meal :-(. All this aside, I'm just glad I get to fly (or will do, once restrictions ease) and travel internationally on a budget. Zoid42 (talk) 07:02, 9 October 2021 (UTC)

Air horn! -- 08:14, 8 October 2021 (UTC)

Anyone else thinks Wing Glue may be a running joke about the wings of Icarus? Radnall already referenced them a few times both on xkcd and what-if.-- 14:57, 8 October 2021 (UTC)

This is the only comic I've seen where I feel this site may have missed the main joke of the comic. This doesn't work for all the items listed, but: many of them make perfect sense under the premise "if you haven't flown in a while", just that "you" and "flown" mean things other than a person as a passenger on a commercial airline. For example:

  • Seat cushion: if you're a person as a passenger on a commercial airline (the "base" or "normal" case).
  • Parachute: if you're a pilot in various military or experimental aircraft.
  • Wing glue: if you're Icarus.
  • Sextant: if you're piloting an airship, perhaps in a fantasy setting, or even perhaps a plane in the early history of aviation.
  • Birdseed: if you're a bird.
  • Homing beacon: if you're a larger commercial aircraft (or a human responsible for outfitting it with safety systems).
  • Keys to the plane: if you own a normal, small plane.

These ones I can think of a possible explanation but it's a bit unclear:

  • Nose plugs and goggles for pressure: if you're flying an aircraft in the atmosphere of another planet where the air pressure is much higher?
  • Navigation crystal: if you're flying an aircraft in a fantasy world?
  • Spare batteries in case the plane runs out: if you're flying some experimental electric aircraft?
  • Meteorite antidote: if you're flying a spacecraft in some sci-fi setting where meteorites were poisonous?

The others I don't have an idea for, which is why I came here looking for the explanation. -- 00:53, 9 October 2021 (UTC)

I think you could be on to something. However, the sextant was really used in airliners literally 40 years ago. The 70s and early 80s can hardly be called early history of aviation. -- 06:05, 12 October 2021 (UTC)
Navigational crystals are actually a real thing used historically. Look up "sunstone". They seem to be hard to use, but could somewhat replace the sextant on cloudy days or during twilight when the stars aren't quite visible as they would let you see where the sun is anyway. Kapten-N (talk) 15:08, 9 January 2024 (UTC) 21:49, 11 October 2021 (UTC) probably "decoy tickets" are somehow related to a load of false targets any combat aeroplane tends to carry. When attacked by a homing missile, the pilot can drop decoys to lure the missile away from the aeroplane.

Goggles were(are?) regularly used on open-cockpit planes, nose plugs seems to be a kind of spark plug, sometimes used on the engine of such vehicles (I first thought it may have to do with the plane's nose, but it doesn't look so). Surprisingly I found some pictures of bird nests in aircraft engines on the way, but I doubt this has to do with the seeds. In general a lot can be explained by interpreting "you haven't flown in a while" as referred to a pilot and the "in a while" to several decades.-- 18:54, 13 October 2021 (UTC)

the wing glue could be a reference to that one story from Greek mythology where Icarus flys close to the sun and the wing glue melts-- 00:32, 15 October 2021 (UTC)

I am a bit disappointed that this is only a list of things to bring, neglecting the equally important list of things to *not* bring, and not using the potential of alternations between them (as one could create, for example, for electronics and their batteries). 13:38, 23 October 2021 (UTC)

There are some errors in the table… XkcdPhone (talk) 00:51, 24 November 2021 (UTC)

Keys to the plane may be in reference to a prank that is sometimes played on new airline pilots where the captain asks the new pilot where the keys are or if they have the keys. --Abrickwall (talk) 19:57, 21 December 2021 (UTC)