5 Awesome Tech Tips to Try on Your Next Flight

Sep 7, 2015

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Do you dread stowing your electronic devices for travel — and miss them when they’re gone? New TPG Contributor Dan Nainanan Intel engineer turned world-traveling comedian, shares five of his most treasured tech secrets for maximizing your time on planes.

A free program called Connectify lets you, um ... *connectify* your devices.
A free program called Connectify lets you … *connectify* all your devices.

1. Share your Wi-Fi connection with all your devices, and with your seatmate.

Let’s say you want to connect to the Internet on your laptop, your phone and your tablet. Unfortunately, in-flight Wi-Fi systems such as Gogo only allow you to connect one device at a time. A fantastic workaround is Connectify. You install this free program on your laptop, and voilà — you can share your Wi-Fi with multiple devices. This utility is also quite useful in hotels or airports where you can only connect one device to the Internet.

The Connectify screen, showing my smartphone and tablet sharing my laptop Wi-Fi connection.

When I hear the bell that indicates we’ve reached 10,000 feet, I fire up my laptop, start Connectify, get my smartphone and tablet online, as well — and if my seatmate is friendly, I’ll share my connection with him or her. Having tested the signal by walking to the other end of the aircraft and back with my phone in hand, I can confirm that it will actually reach the whole plane.

Some critically important conversations with my companion via text message on my recent flight.

2. Text your friends on the plane at any altitude.

On a recent international trip, my companion and I ended up sitting pretty far apart. We didn’t want to be bothered by actually having to get up and walk in order to talk to each other, especially when the seatbelt sign was on. Instead, we used the power of mesh networking to text each other – even at 38,000 feet.

You may have heard of Jott and FireChat, two mesh networking apps available for both iOS and Android. These apps use Bluetooth to allow one to send text messages to someone nearby who has the app when there’s no cellular service or Wi-Fi in the area. The more smartphones that have each app in an area, the larger the networking range.

FireChat was originally created for use at outdoor festivals (such as Burning Man) where Wi-Fi might not be available. The app rose to prominence during the Hong Kong political protests of 2014, as it enabled protesters to continue texting each other when the government cut off cellular signals in the area. Jott is all the rage amongst teenagers who have devices with limited data plans, or no Wi-Fi at school.

On a recent flight, my companion and I both downloaded Jott before we boarded the plane, so we were able to text each other during the whole flight. It’s conceivable that if everyone else on board had the app, we could all have been texting each other. Wouldn’t that be a blast?

Note: Before you fly, check your airline’s policies on using Bluetooth devices in the air; some airlines permit it, some don’t.

3. Voice dictation … on a plane?

As one who has suffered from wrist pain in the past, I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking for all of my typing, including emails, a forthcoming book and this article. The program requires eight minutes of training when you first get it, but it pays off with incredible accuracy. I’ve used voice dictation in all kinds of noisy environments: on trains, buses and even on airplanes. You might think it’s rude to dictate on a plane, but one doesn’t really have to talk in a loud voice to dictate. I only dictate if my seatmate is sleeping or using headphones, or if I have a pod to myself. I’ve often worried that the flight attendants would think I’m making a phone call, but I’ve dictated on many flights and have never been questioned.

In the video above, you’ll see me dictating on a plane. (You’re welcome.) Some people tell me they’ve tried Dragon and it doesn’t work, but as you can see, that’s simply not true. The technology has gotten a lot better — and you get improved accuracy if you use a USB headset.

My trusty, well-used one-outlet-to-three adapter — which cost me all of $2.

4. Never want for an outlet again.

Here’s a low-tech solution to what can be a high tech problem: a lack of enough power outlets. I carry a $2 adapter that turns one outlet into three. I’ve noticed that quite often, when there’s a power outlet at my seat, one or both outlets won’t work, so having my handy dandy little adapter can save the day. It’s also quite useful at airport gates where limited outlets are available, and in hotel rooms, too. I’m constantly surprised by the admiring comments I receive about this simple little gadget.

Take your laptop from landscape to portrait for increased productivity.

5. Make room for your laptop and your food tray.

While in flight, eating and working are often mutually exclusive experiences due to a lack of space for both your laptop and your meal tray. However, I use Ctrl-Alt-left arrow on my Windows laptop in order to stand the computer vertically on its end and still view my screen, creating enough room to continue reading/working while eating from my meal tray. (On a Mac, open System Preferences from the dock, hold down the Option and Command keys, choose Displays and then select Rotation.)

Note that you can’t really use your keyboard when your laptop is vertical, but you can still surf the net with a mouse. Alternatively, if you’re using voice dictation as mentioned previously, you don’t need your keyboard or a mouse.

When my companion first saw me do this, she said, “You are such a geek!” And in truth, she wasn’t far off base.

What are your own favorite in-flight tech tips? Please share them in the comments below.

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