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What Flight Attendants Always Pack in Their Carry-Ons

The best beauty products and more for when you’re 35,000 feet in the air.

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A flight attendant putting a suitcase in the overhead compartment Photo: Image Source/Getty Images

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If you’re a fellow wanderluster, you may think that being a flight attendant is pretty much the dream. But behind all that adventure is the reality of unpredictable schedules, unruly passengers, and unfortunate mishaps (someone has to clean up that little kid’s mid-flight vomit).

Because they work long hours across varied climates and time zones — and because they need to be prepared for literally anything — flight attendants have to make smart and strategic decisions about what they choose to stash in their carry-on.

So, how do cabin crew members pack for life at 35,000 feet? Here, five flight attendants on what they’d never leave home — or wherever they’re staying — without.

Danielle, 29, Southwest Airlines, based in Baltimore

I’ve been a flight attendant for three years. I’ve probably flown on more than 5,000 flights. I do both domestic and international, and I prefer international for the long layovers. I am a p.m. flyer — I hate waking up to an alarm clock. I naturally stay up until 1 or 2 a.m., so it works for me. Plus, the p.m. flyers seem to be more of the younger flight attendants who like to go out and drink after work.

I’m a very easy packer. I keep the same outfit in my bag and switch it up every few trips, depending on the season or destination. Rule number one: Always keep a bathing suit in your bag no matter the time of year. You never know when you will be rerouted to the Dominican Republic, and being without a bathing suit is the worst.

Your skin dries out so much when you’re in the air, so a great moisturizer is key. I use Murad moisturizers. I put it on in the morning and at night, and my skin is never dry. We’re required to wear makeup, which — especially on long days — can make your face oily or dry, but this moisturizer has worked wonders on my skin. Your hair also dries out in the air, so I use SheaMoisture’s On-The-Go Conditioning Hair Fragrance. It smells amazing, and it keeps your hair looking shiny and healthy.

I swear by All Nighter Long Lasting Makeup Setting Spray by Urban Decay. It keeps my makeup on all day long, and a little spray or two in between flights keeps you looking fresh, too. I’ve worked 12-hour days and felt like I got hit by a bus, but my makeup will still look flawless thanks to this spray.

As a flight attendant always on the go, it’s super hard to make healthy choices when you’re eating out of hotels and airports and only have a few minutes to eat over a trash can. Sometimes I don’t have the energy after a long day to put on gym clothes — let alone to go to the gym — so I pack resistance bands. They hardly take up any room and help you stay toned with simple exercises that you can do in your hotel room.

Talya, 39, Southwest Airlines, based in Atlanta

I’ve been a flight attendant for 18 years. I fly a lot, so I can’t imagine how many hours I’ve flown. I do a combination of domestic and international flights. I try to do at least two beach layovers a month in places like Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Mexico, or the Dominican Republic.

It takes me about 10 to 15 minutes to pack. I have double of everything, so there’s always a set of staples in my bag. I usually just switch out clean clothes, underwear, and swimsuits.

I have natural hair, so I make sure to pack a few hair emergency items. If I have to have a wash day on the road, I need SheaMoisture’s Sacha Inchi Oil Omega 3,6,9 Rescue + Repair Conditioner. I’ve been using this for about five months, and my hair adores it. I also use Pure Oils Leave In Moisturizer, As I Am Curling Jelly for curly days, and a small amount of Eden BodyWorks Coconut Shea Pudding Soufflé.

The St. Ives Green Tea Blackhead Clearing Scrub has been a game changer. Even out of all the expensive products I’ve used, this is the only thing that keeps my skin clear. The price is right, and it comes in a travel size. And I can’t wash my face without moisturizing! I must have Pond’s Clarant B3. It’s almost completely eradicated my hyperpigmentation. Because of this product, I can wear a nice sheer foundation without fear.

Thinx is a new must-have product for me. I’ve had mine for about six months, and I really need to know where they’ve been my entire life. When my cycle hits, I wear them as a backup for heavier days and as a standalone for lighter days. I never have to worry about accidents in my uniform.

Once I switched from traditional toothpaste, I realized that I had to maintain on the road. I use Garner’s Gardens Natural Mouthwash and Tooth Powder. You can’t beat the type of clean and breath-freshening you get from these two products. Plus I love supporting a small African-American business.

Kayla, 27, Southwest Airlines, based in Chicago

I’ve been a flight attendant for four years, and I fly domestic and international. I work both early morning and late flights — it just depends on my schedule every month. I prefer to work early morning domestic flights. I enjoy the destinations the most because I get to see cities that I would’ve never thought of visiting on my own.

It takes me about 15 minutes to pack. Sometime it’s a little longer — maybe 30 minutes if I’m going international. [One thing I always bring is] my “emergency pack.” It’s a pouch with safety pins, clear nail polish, nail glue, Tide to Go Instant Stain Remover, an extra phone charging cord, and Wet Wipes.

At some point in time I’ve had to use everything in this bag. You never know when you’re going to need what’s in there, but the day will come when you do. When I spill coffee on my uniform, Tide pen! When I forget my phone charger, it’s no biggie because I have a cord that stays with me.

My phone is my life. I’ve carried a portable battery pack for two years. Before I started using it and when I’d work long days, my phone would die. Flight attendants need their phones to call the hotel they’re overnighting at to pick them up, to check flight delays and gate numbers, and of course to stay in touch with loved ones. I never have to worry about my phone dying.

Nikita, 27, Etihad Airways, based in Abu Dhabi

I’ve been flying for one year and eight months. It’s been approximately 170 flights so far. I mostly fly international, ultra long-haul flights to Sydney, Melbourne, and New York mixed with Asian and European destinations. Airplanes have fascinated me since I was a child. My mother encouraged me to be a cabin crew member so I could travel the world. And I’m a people person, so I love my job.

Primark PS Eye Makeup Remover
Primark PS Eye Makeup Remover ($2.50)

It takes me 15 minutes to pack. I need my Adidas Neo Cloudfoam Ultimate Shoes and gym clothes. Since I travel a lot, I have to make the time to go the gym during layovers. As a flight attendant, it’s important to be fit and happy.

A good lipstick can do wonders. I love matte finishes that can also be used as an eyeshadow and blush. Right now I like Kat Von D Everlasting Liquid Lipstick in Susperia. I need to look presentable and fresh, so the makeup helps. I also use Primark PS Eye Makeup Remover.

I’ve been wearing DKNY Be Delicious Perfume for almost three years. It’s long-lasting and makes me smell fresh. Even after a long and tiring day, I give myself a little spray of this and I’m ready to rock. Since crew members have discounts at duty-free shops at many airports, I always pick mine up there.

Richard, 19, British Airways, based in London

I’ve been a flight attendant for six months. In the short time I’ve been cabin crew, I’ve flown on more than 90 flights to countries I never thought I would visit. I work for a fleet that flies all over the world. I do a large variety of flights: long, short, international, and domestic. They can be day or night flights. There’s a lot of variety, and sometimes too much long-haul can be exhausting, so it’s refreshing to break it up with some short-haul intra-European flights.

Burt’s Bees Lip Balm
Burt’s Bees Lip Balm ($5.50 for a three pack)

There’s actually an ongoing joke within my family because I am quite the fast packer: “Give Richard 10 minutes and he’ll be packed and in the car, ready to go.” As cabin crew, you get efficient at packing a suitcase. My packing list doesn't change very often, so it’s easy for me. However, I know some crew who take hours to pack a carry-on suitcase. I guess it can be quite stressful, especially if you’re on standby and have no idea where they will send you.

My savior is Burt’s Bees Lip Balm. The air on the aircraft is extremely dry, and within minutes I can feel my lips start to chap. I’ve got a pile of lip balm sticks at home, and I never leave the house without one. I also pack a Brita water bottle. As you get sent all over the world, the water quality varies. I filter it before drinking — even if it’s “safe to drink.” You can never be too careful because I’ve heard some horror stories.

Last but not least, I pack my Swissgear Worldwide Adaptor Plug. This item never leaves my suitcase. The last thing you want is to be stuck somewhere without a charged phone and to not be able to communicate with the world.