In-flight reading: iPad, Kindle, magazines or a good book?

With so many different ways to read while travelling, do you go high-tech or old-school?

By David Flynn, May 10 2020
In-flight reading: iPad, Kindle, magazines or a good book?

It's post-coronavirus and you're off on (another) business trip. You've settled into your seat on the plane, with many hours stretching ahead of you. You reach into your carry-on bag and pull out – what? An iPad? A Kindle? The latest issue of your favourite magazine, or a book?

It certainly seems that books, at least in their printed "dead tree" format, are slowly being pushed off the inflight reading list.

It's no accident that air travel spawned its own category of literature in the form of the "airport novel". These large, thick paperback tomes are geared to passengers with engaging, easy-to-read escapism to reduce the boredom factor in long flights.

As Ian Fleming freely admitted of his James Bond adventures, "I write for warm-blooded heterosexuals in railway trains, aeroplanes and beds." But is the new wave of technology setting up books for their own cliffhanger ending?

Tablets from Apple and Google have joined the growing legion of travel-friendly gadgets that I'm seeing in increasing numbers on planes, in airport lounges and hotel lobbies.

On most flights, regardless of whether I'm in business class or economy, it's rare not to spy at least one passenger in any given row using a tablet or e-book reader. I also make a quick tech tally on most visits to airport lounges, and tablets appear to have long overtaken laptops.

E-book readers are versatile and allow you to take multiple titles on the go.
E-book readers are versatile and allow you to take multiple titles on the go.

Quite a few travellers pack both: a laptop for work and a tablet or e-book reader for downtime.

I'm often packing my iPad and a Kindle, sometimes with a magazine as well. (Yes, that mitigates against my penchant for travelling light.) But these days the iPad is almost a must-have for my travels and is best for digital editions of magazines and newspapers alongside its many other functions.

The Kindle offers an experience that's optimised for books, while the device itself is far easier to read and lighter to hold than the iPad.

And now and again I'll grab the latest issue of a favourite magazine to dive into – something I too-rarely indulge in back on terra firma.

But I long ago gave up on taking books on my travels.

They demand too much carry-on space – especially with the trend towards larger print sizes, spacey layout and hence more pages per tome – and as a fast reader, knocking over one book during the flight means I'm carrying dead weight for the rest of the trip.

And if I don't finish the book before I land, I almost certainly won't have time to read it once that my work begins.

Book, magazine, tablet or e-book reader – what's your choice of inflight reading, and why?


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

QantasFF Platinum

16 Feb 2012

Total posts 153

Qantas wireless inflight entertainment, streamed to my personal device, (be it iPad, Laptop etc) with large selection of e-book / magazine options for inflight reading. That would be my prefered gate-to-gate option! 

QantasFF Platinum

16 Feb 2012

Total posts 153

Do you think wireless in-flight internet access (if ever released in Aust) possibly changing this trend for what common devices are used onboard?

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1197

For inflight reading, a Kindle is far superior to using a tablet like an iPad or GalaxyTab.  The Kindle is much lighter, its battery will last for days rather than hours and the screen is much less tiring on the eyes compared with tablets.

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1242

I always use the IFE and don't bring my own reading material.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Sep 2013

Total posts 188

I always take my iPad with the Kindle application, and with the option of having white print on a black background, there is no stress on the eyes, nor inconvenience for others if I'm reading well after the lights go out.

23 Aug 2012

Total posts 29

I prefer books - for the haptics and the feeling of reading something different to work stuff. However I hate them for eating up that valuable carry-on space and on QF flights that bloody low carry-on weight limit.

Same holds true for a magazine. Though I hardly ever store magazines on a shelf at home, other than books.

What would probably help me a lot was the option to buy a real book and get the corresponding e-book for free. I could shelf the real thing and safe on carry-on weight. Still suffering from reading on an iPad but compromising to safe weight.

No kindle for me. Why carry an iPad and a Kindle? Too much weight on this nasty low carry on weight limit with QF. One of the main reasons to prefer BA over QF to Europe. They don't bug their customers with way too low 7 kgs (which is 2.5 kgs for the bag, 2 kgs for the laptop, two books and a magazine plus some paperwork, and I'm over the bloody limit).

Oh, did I mention, I hate those 7 kgs at QF?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

22 Sep 2014

Total posts 3

The 7kg for QF(and all IATA member airlines) is for your carry on baggage, Laptops, reading material etc is addition to the 7kg "In addition to your carry-on baggage allowance, you may also carry on board one small personal item such as a handbag, laptop computer*, overcoat, small camera, a reasonable amount of reading material or a small amount of duty free goods (where permitted)"

23 Aug 2012

Total posts 29

Sorry to go off-topic, though carry-on weight limits are not really an IATA issue anymore: BA allows for up to 23 kg, as long as one could handle it oneself, LH has 8, some others allow 10 or 15. 8 is quite low for a carry on case, 7 is insane.

For the size there is an IATA regulation which is a good idea, so overhead compartements have a common size.

 As I'm retired, I travel for leisure, not work.  At home I prefer a book, but when travelling I take a tablet for email, news, research etc. and a Kindle for books.  A 10in tablet is too awkward for reading on a plane and I don't like carrying it when I'm sight-seeing, as well as the issue of battery life.  The kindle will fit in my bag to read while I'm out and holds so many more books than I could carry.  On a recent trip to Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, I read 5 or 6 books and only had to recharge once in 4 weeks.  It wasn't any good for Lonely Planet guide books as the print was too small, but I bought the echapters and printed what I thought would be useful.  I discarded them as soon as I'd finished with them.

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on In-flight reading: iPad, Kindle, magazines or a good book?