We spend an incredible amount of time in the Air. Long Haul Flights to and from the UK to the USA Mainland take anywhere between 6 and 12 hours, and our favorite place in the world, Hawaii, is nearly 24 hours away. It’s inevitable that some of that time we will want to sleep. Especially considering the Airlines preferred use of red-eye flights that leaving in the evening and arrive in the morning. For years Travel Pillows have always been the same U-Shaped cushions that are pretty useless at actually supporting your head.
But the Year is now 2021, which is basically the future! Surely by now the Travel pillow came has evolved? We have Robot Vacuum Cleaners, Automated Drones, Smartphones, and SmartHomes we are even on the cusp of driverless Electric Cars! Surely someone has worked out a way to get some decent sleep while cramped into the back of the economy section? For our latest trip to New York, we decided to take the Travel Pillow game to the next level and share our results with you, in Our Ultimate Guide to the Best Travel Pillows for Long Flights.
Best travel Pillow Reviews 2021 – How we test?
With most of these reviews, you will see the review has hands-on experience with the product, but testing a product in the home or office really doesn’t cut it. It may feel amazing when tested for a few seconds but that does not mean it can cut it in the air, as we found out.
We did the ultimate test, we took the pillows onto a plane during a Red-Eye and actually tried to sleep. The Flight in question was a Virgin Economy Flight Between New York and London Heathrow. We needed to drive once in London so needed to be refreshed and sober. This was a test in the real pressure cooker of an economy cabin, an environment that would really identify any flaws or weaknesses in the product! This was also on Virgins A330-300 which has one of the least comfortable long-haul Economy seats we have experienced. It really was the ultimate test!
We tested 3 different products that attempt to fix the inherent flaws in the U-Shaped pillow. These were the J-Pillow, The Bcozzy, and the TRTL “pillow”. There were a few others we dismissed beforehand, not because they were ineffective, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to use them in public. We think a Pillow should be discrete and as you can see these options are anything but.
What is Wrong With U-Shaped Pillows?
They just don’t work very well. For years we have endured the misery of trying to sleep on a plane with the U-Shaped pillows and we never get more than an hour or two at best. Airplane seats no longer recline anywhere near enough for effective sleep and the U-Shaped Pillow does nothing to stop the head from rolling forward, and even sideways movement is not reduced adequately. This result is neck ache and ultimately you waking up. This Fitful on-off sleep does nothing to refresh you and doesn’t even pass the time effectively. And Hour like this can feel longer than just staying awake.
You will see some people Sleeping soundly on any flight with a U-Shaped pillow but this is more to do with their propensity to be able to sleep anywhere than the effectiveness of the pillow. For anyone without this ability adequate neck support is the only way to get off to deep restful sleep.
Without a doubt, the best sleep I have ever had on a plane was when We flew to the Dominican Republic. Kate wasn’t in a Drinking mood, but the Cabin Crew insisted on providing two drinks each round, which I happily necked leaving me practically blackout drunk! I slept like a BABY!
Obviously, this is not always completely practical, both for when you reach your destination (Maybe you have to drive?), or the long-term function of your liver. It can also be a fine line between passing out and throwing up in the aisle, which is definitely frowned upon by the cabin crew. So while it’s effective, it does have its drawbacks.
Obviously, this one is just a joke and we don’t advocate excessive drinking to get through a flight so let’s reset the list and start again with our REAL Number 1.
- RRP: $29.95
What is it?
A Classic Pillow Re-Imagined to provide real support exactly where you need it. It is J shaped Pillow that fits under your chin with “wings” that wrap around the side of your head to give support. It’s pretty hard to explain so a picture paints a thousand words as they say.
It doesn’t seem particularly revolutionary and is pretty underwhelming to look at. However, the design of this pillow seems to be geared to functionality, not quirks or marketing.
What we think:
When we first unboxed this we were pretty underwhelmed. Testing it out a few times we found it slipped away and was next to impossible to keep in place to provide any support. I then gave it a try while on the sofa watching a football match. I missed the entire match. I awoke a few minutes after the final whistle still upright, with the pillow in place… This bode pretty well for the Pillow. We still had the acid test, however.
In use in Virgin’s Economy section, we found the pillow even more effective. Its ability to wedge up against the seatback or the fuselage really boosted the already impressive amounts of support and enabled us to get off to sleep. We enjoyed long sections of deep sleep that eat away large sections of the flight.
It was not perfect, at times your head can roll away from the support side and most times I woke up my head had indeed rolled off to the right what the pillow was on the left. Incredibly the J support was still firmly under the chin stopping forward movement. This meant sleep was not instantly interrupted but eventually it would cause you to wake.
Being a Night flight from New York it was also a cold flight, but the Pillow was very warm and comforting which when combined with Virgin’s blankets kept us snug all night, not to the levels of the Trtl Below but still comfy.
Overall we found the J-Pillow very effective, it still has issues and we can’t say the pillow problem is solved, but the j-Pillow is several steps forward in the evolution of pillows.
Most people, especially heavy sleepers who need a lot of support.
- RRP: $29.99
What is it?
A total rethink of what a travel pillow is! It is essentially a scarf that you wrap around your neck and secures in place with velcro. Inside one side of the scarf is a plastic support that you rest your head upon. It’s a super clever idea that really took an out-of-the-box approach. Let’s be clear, we REALLY wanted to like this. As a concept, it’s felt perfect and we genuinely thought this was the answer to all aviation-based sleeping issues, which shows the importance of real-world testing!
What we think:
This is a VERY close second. We loved the Trtl, and in fact, Kate preferred it to the J-pillow in just about every way. The Scarf is super soft a warm, a real pleasure to wear even when not sleeping. The Test feel of the Scarf makes this the easy winner of the test. It provides fantastic sideways support and the Scarf stops your head from lolling forward pretty well.
It only comes in at number two because, for me, it wasn’t enough. I have a heavy head and I Fidgit when sleeping and the Trtl did not provide enough support once I began falling into a deep sleep. When Testing awake, you naturally give the pillow a little helping hand, subconsciously. Only when you fully lose awareness can you fully test the pillow and I found it lacking. Often waking instantly as my head shifted.
This was in part the fact it relied on you staying upright. As there is no real pillow to speak of, it only supports your neck. Nothing else, with a real pillow you can jam yourself up against the seat, the fuselage, your partner, anything. But with the Trtl this doesn’t work so if your body shifts so does your head.
So we put this at number two, as it only suits light sleepers. Heavy Fidgety sleeper may just not find enough support here. But it is still far better than the classic U-shaped.
The best feature of the Trtl is it’s warmth. This is basically a really comfy scarf and you really can snuggle into it. Long Transatlantic flights really can get a bit nippy, especially near Exit Rows, and the Trtl really gave you that added warmth boost. Allowing you to get really comfy and off to sleepy land.
Light Sleepers, Cold Flights, and Light Packers.
3: Everlasting Comfort 100% Pure Memory Foam Neck Pillow
- RRP: $27.95
What is it?
This pillow is basically the Evolution of traditional neck pillows. It’s not the Reimagining or Technological revolutions we were looking for. It’s more a fine-tuning or perfecting of the current solution…or maybe it’s just polishing a turd?
Honestly, there are many of these products on Amazon and at airports and most are simply cheap imports from China, we are not specifically targetting the Everlasting Comfort pillow but simply the wholes range of U-shaped Pillows with Bells on.
What we think:
While these pillows really work well for some, none of the tweaks really address the inherent design flaw that with a minimal seat recline your head is prone to roll forward, causing next strain and asleep interruption.
The Evolved versions are much thicker and more supportive than pillows of old and using new technologies such as memory foam can improve the comfort we still do not find them overly effective. The basic concept is flawed and we are really looking for an innovative solution, not tweaks to a flawed design to overcome it! But we can’t ignore them as they do still offer a valid solution.
People who sleep easy and cost-saving.
- RRP: $29.97
What is it?
The BCozzy is a traditional U-shaped Pillow that extends around the front of the next to Wrap around like a scarf. Where the Pillow overlaps under your chin it bulks up and provides
What we think:
This Pillow is an Amazon bestseller and the reason is pretty clear, the people behind the pillow spend a lot advertising it and pushing it on Amazon as a sponsored product. We really didn’t get on with it at all. The idea is sound enough and the under chin support was good but this seemed to compromise the side support. There was just not enough there to stop your head from falling to uncomfortable angles.
The Pillow also felt pretty restrictive. Think being strangled by a Boa-Constrictor…only gently, but there is definitely some restriction. The Pillow is advertised as being usable in multiple ways but anyway we tried has issues. The only way we found it to be supportive enough was folding it in half, but then it is nothing more than a pillow and has all the issues that come with that.
Maybe other people get on with this pillow better but for us, we just didn’t get along. We fear its Amazon bestseller status maybe because it’s a heavily promoted item.
5: Business Class!
Of course, the best solution to all this is to get yourself up in Business class, you can’t beat a lay flatbed to help you get off. Of course, Cost is the prohibitive factor here …so maybe just stick to the Gin…
There are several other types we found on Amazon, We considered these but found fundamental issues with them and decided against testing them So we can’t really provide real reviews we thought they are worth a mention and sharing our thoughts on them:
Weird Belt Pillow
- RRP: $23.95
What is it?
This inflatable “pillow” is worn across the body as a Sash. with the front part inflating to form the pillow. By wearing the pillow it utilizes your own body weight to hold it in place and provide a lot of support.
What we think:
While we think this is an ingenious idea it does nothing to address the issue of forwarding head movement. You can see clearly from the example image there is nothing stopping the head from falling straightforward once the wearer falls into a deep sleep. It’s a case of solving a problem but doing nothing to solve the additional problems. The U-shaped Pillows already stop lateral movement and it’s not the problem that needed fixing!
You also look pretty ridiculous wearing it!
Giant Table thing
- RRP: $32.99
What is it?
This is a massive inflatable table that you blow up and then lean forward onto to get to sleep. This can either be placed on your knee or the tray table.
What we think:
We imagine this is incredibly effective. However, really we just couldn’t bring ourselves to use it. A large inflatable mass filling almost the entire space between you and the seat in front is just a bit too much “look at me” for us. We also have HUGE issues with how much of a pain it would be when not using it. Once inflated it’s going to be very cumbersome and in your way.
We see this as classic over-engineering and not suitable for real-world applications. However, It would almost certainly offer some really good deep sleep.
For us, it was a close call between the J-Pillow and the Trtl. Overall they got one vote each. The J-Pillow did work well for both of us though where I just could not get comfy with the Trtl, so we awarded it our top spot, with the Trtl a close second.
The upgraded U-shape and the Bcozzy were bringing up the rear and quite a long way behind. We don’t feel they have adequately solved any of the issues with travel pillows and as such we would probably take a gamble with a cheap basic pillow and the airline seat support.
Unfortunately, none of the pillows were able to adequately make up for the inherent discomfort provided by uncomfy cramped seats with limited recline. It is still a case of making the best of a bad situation.
It is also worth noting that a quick survey of the cabin showed 99% of passengers were still just using the standard U-Shaped Pillows…
Other Tips for Sleeping on a plane!
- Temperature – It is Vital to stay warm. We find a lot of Red Eye Flights are particularly cold, whereas daytime flights can be uncomfortably warm. It is important either way to be at a comfortable temperature. So, ensure the cooling vent in on if it’s warm, or utilize the free airline blankets if it’s a cool overnight trip. Even Stand up and wrap the blanket fully around yourself to cocoon the heat in.
- Noise Canceling Earphones – These are a technological innovation that can work wonders to helping you get some shut-eye, especially on a very child filled flight. Simply Pop them in and let the distracting noise of the cabin drift away. You will find most phones now come with some kind of noise-canceling earphones.
- Listen to White Noise – Make sure you listen to something quiet and relaxing. Movies with explosions are perfect for ripping you from a deep slumber. Instead some relaxing music, actually white noise or sleep sounds, or our personal favorite and wildlife documentary narrated by David Attenborough…zzzzz (p.s We love David and all his work but just can’t help find that voice incredibly relaxing)
- Choose a good seat – Seat selection can be important. We always get a window seat and choose seats away from toilets galleys or anywhere where people can congregate and make noise.
- Shoes Off – As long as your socks are clean and feet not sweaty we always find having your shows off helps promote comfort and hence sleep. We are not meant to sleep with our shoes on.
- Wear Your Seatbelt – If the Cabin Crew cannot see your seatbelt is fastened. If the seatbelt light goes on they will wake you to make sure it is. Ensure before sleep it’s fastened and can be seen to be fastened. That’s on the top of any blankets or layers you may have!
Have Your Say
Have you tried any of the pillows from our test? Maybe you have tried a different pillow and think it’s fantastic? Or maybe you hate one of the pillows we loved? Whatever your opinion let us know in the comments below. We feel Travel Pillows are deeply personal so we expect quite a few differing opinions on this!