4 Apps for Airplanes and other Kinds of Boredom Survival

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I’m at a conference this week, which means (ugh) I had to spend time in an airport and on an airplane. And as anyone who’s ever flown with me can tell you, I get to the airport EARLY. Two hours early for domestic flights, three for international. That’s the rule and I fucking follow it, because that’s what I do: follow rules. Usually this does nothing more than serve its purpose — I’ve never missed a flight. But sometimes it’s frustrating, like this past week when I thought it would take me and fellow MFA candidate Catherine Bloomer an hour to get to JFK in cab from Manhattan because that’s normal. We left at four in the morning and TWENTY SIX MINUTES LATER we were standing in front of our check in counter, the only ones in the airport. Needless to say, we each leaned heavily on our phones in this trying time—and that’s before we even got on the plane. I asked Catherine what she played, and she said Plants vs. Zombies 2, which she describes as “just eh.” So you don’t have to have a “just eh” airplane boredom busting experience, here are apps that I used that don’t require data or wifi to be fun:


Alex Reagan from The Black Tapes Podcast

Alex Reagan from The Black Tapes Podcast

Overcast + The Black Tapes

I’ve written about Overcast before, but it definitely also has its place as a boredom buster. This Podcatching app is perfect for listening to podcasts and managing subscriptions — best, sleekest one I’ve ever used AND it’s totally free. With a little planning, you too can load it up with episodes of The Black Tapes, which my friend Julie got me hooked on. The Black Tapes is a scripted fiction podcast like Nightvale, but it’s made in the realistic style of Serial (it even went bi-weekly, just like Serial did this season). Reporter Alex Reagan stumbles on to unsolvable paranormal mysteries courtesy of famed skeptic Dr. Richard Strand. What follows is an immersive horror romp through the world of demons and secret societies, of ghosts and grisly murders. And the producers and reporters involved in the show never admit that it’s scripted fiction — they stay in character, even for interviews. This combined with the Serial feel creates a realism that, if you’re as easily scared as I am, might mean that binging The Black Tapes while surrounded by other people is kinda perfect. And I think its especially relevant to your interests because it’s a horror story focused on a female protagonist who’s not a damsel in distress, so HUZZAH! Plus I arrived at it late, so there’s a bunch of backlog and plenty of time to catch up since they’re on hiatus until May. But you won’t need that time — I’ve managed to totally catch up this trip, and you might too.

Download Overcast for iOS. Since it’s only for iOS,  give Pocket Casts a try if you’re using Android ($3.99). But if you’re a person who gets stressed on planes, maybe try one of the following, calmer options pared with the dulcet tones of my other new favorite, Unfriendly Black Hotties (they talk a lot of higher education policy, so HEART EYES)


Neko Atsume

I haven’t written about Neko Atsume yet because, well, we all know about it. But I thought it bore mentioning as a pretty much perfect airplane game, especially if you’re doing other things like reading a book because you check on things, move things around and then leave it be. Neko Atsume is a cat- and item-collection game that is the epitome of cute and relaxing — excellent if flying makes you a little nervous. Put out food and toys, and cats will flood your yard and leave you fish, which in turn you use to purchase more food and cat toys. Pretty soon, cats will bring you special momentos to signify that you’ve won their tiny, pixel-love. It also bears mentioning now because it was recently updated to include new cats and new items, so if you’ve tried it previously and lost interest, the update might revive that interest—enough to keep you occupied from New York to LA. One of the things I love about it, by the way, is that if you do lose interest or (more likely) need to take a break from it because it’s affecting your productivity, you don’t feel guilty: unlike Tamogotchi of yore, the cats are only visiting, so if you don’t put food out it’s not like they die. Also also, if you turn the music off, you can even couple checking up on your cats with Overcast above and the sound effects will still come through.

Download Neko Atsume for iOS and Android, totally free.


blossom-blast

Blossom Blast

Blossom Blast is a match-three game by King, and like Neko Atsume, it’s perfect for people who need to be soothed as well as entertained by their phones while flying. Match three or more flowers and, if they’ve grown big enough, they might bloom. It’s pretty and colorful, and it makes use of very sparkly music and sound effects. The floral theme makes the game almost a meditation on cute, and like Neko Atsume, audio apps override the sound — so listen away while shutting your brain off to a match three game.

Download Blossom Blast for iOS and Android, totally free.


Sputnik Eyes

Okay, so you can listen to something over Sputnik Eyes, but you won’t want to. The music in this game is SO SOOTHING, and I can’t even talk about its adorable design without going all starry-eyed. Also it’s space. It’s a tiny cute space game filled with puzzles — your object is to get the little robots in their own color-coded spaces, but they must move along the paths and sometimes paths only go one way, or only certain color robots can move along a certain path. Doing this builds constellations of planets that are now habitable to our space explorers. Space. Puzzles. Cuteness. Pop your earbuds in and forget that you’re in the middle seat and no one has left you an armrest.

Download Sputnik Eyes for iOS and Android ($1.99).

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A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 543 articles for us.

34 Comments

  1. I totally use Neko Atsume and Blossom Blast Saga on a daily basis. Thanks for the recommendations for Sputnik Eyes and podcasts. I haven’t gotten into podcasts, yet, but it sounds promising Sputnik Eyes sounds great.
    I recently went on an airplane for the first time in 9 years, and I was totally freaked. I was really concerned about airport security and getting lost and being on time, and what if my person didn’t pick me up, and what if my phone died (I have anxiety, BTW). My specific strategy was to read t he Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. I got so into it, but was also aware of my surroundings, and amazing didn’t get motion sickness from reading on the plane. So I suggest finding a really interesting book for airplane trips, and since this is about tech, there are book apps for your phone, too. I also find crocheting to be really, really, relaxing, but I was too nervous to take my crochet hook on my trip because I didn’t know how airport security would handle it. Does anyone know? I think it might be okay, because TSA was a lot more lax about things than I thought they would be (I left my bisexual flag heart pin that lives on my backpack at home, because I was worried they wouldn’t let me through because pins are pointy, but then I saw a teenager in the plane wearing a denim vest covered in pins, so it would have been okay).
    Um, thanks for listening to all my airplane feelings, lol.

  2. Great suggestions! I love Blossom Blast. I’ve never ridden on a plane, but I’ve found taking my DS with me when I go to places where I have to wait lots also helps to pass the time. There are tons of fun games for it.

  3. thank you for this! I’ve been using a terrible podcast app for my android and this lead me through the podcast post archives to find podcast addict, which is all sorts of win, mostly because I was dreading the final stages of moving out of my old place (cleaning, painting, packing the things I’ve been procrastinating on) and now I can listen to podcasts all day!

    • I use Podcast Addict too, and listened to some while I started the huge task of cleaning my room. I also have a bunch of audiobooks for the trip and Juliet Takes A Breath because I gotta read it!

      If you get the audible trial, you can get any audiobook on there for free for the first month, too. Then you could cancel if you don’t wanna continue and keep the book.

  4. The last time I was on a flight it was an all-nighter and I decided to watch an in-flight movie. I always use planes as an opportunity to watch a movie I would’ve never otherwise seen, and because the passenger sitting next to me had fallen asleep within the first five minutes of the flight, I felt little shame about selecting Magic Mike 2.

    Friends, I loved this movie. I thought it was delightful. I had been forced to sit through the first Magic Mike by a gaggle of my straight friends and it was a total drag. This one was AMAZING. All of the dancers were super passionate about their choreography and their artistic expression, and I started to get really invested in the characters’ relationships and the way the film was depicting women’s desires as something awesome and natural.

    Then my seat neighbor woke up. And I began to gain an awareness of what I was watching. I’m so gay that shirtless men with rippling muscles doesn’t even register as sexual for me. But suddenly I was also feeling the eyes of a 50 year old straight woman on my screen. Watching Channing Tatum dance-thrust into the face of an ethusiastic participant was no longer just an in-joke with myself. This woman suddenly had a front row seat for every single crotch grab.

    Friends, I held my ground. I finished the entire film. I sat there in stony-faced silence through every last thrust. no regretz.

    Hopefully, however, with the aid of this list I will be able to avoid such situations in the future. Also I’d give MM2: The Magickening a 7/10.

  5. I would recommend Atomas (matching sort of game), stack (see how high you can stack blocks that have soothing colors), knights of pen and paper rpg, and if you play ingress while you can’t play on a plane you can get glypher or another glyph memory game to help memorize glyphs. if on layover, might find ingress portals maybe.

    • +1 for Two Dots! Also Triple Town (the “infinite lives” upgrade is well worth it) and Down the Mountain (another “freemium” game, but I beat it without paying a cent). And if you’re looking for a more relaxing “Tap Tap Revenge” type game, Deemo is pretty awesome.

  6. I definitely recommend Another Round if you’re looking for podcasts- that’s been my main transit listening recently.

    Just downloaded Sputnik Eyes and I love it!! It’s so soothing, honestly

  7. My current go-to is Alto’s Adventure, where you’re a snowboarder who needs to catch lost alpacas. It… sounds kind of odd, but the music and scenery are soothing, the controls and physics of the game are intuitive, and it helps me turn my mind of when unpleasant things (like air travel) are happening.

    I’m so stoked about this article. I just got back from one trip, and am leaving on another on Monday, so I’m currently downloading everyone’s suggestions. :D

  8. My next plane journey is like 22hrs and I was planning on listening to both Hamilton The Soundtrack and Hamilton The Podcast for the first time. That way I get to tie my memory of flying over to A-Camp with being the place I discovered Hamilton and simultaneously ease my Hamilton related FOMO.

  9. Having only ever traveled to Europe from the UK, I have never taken a flight longer than 3 hours and I played Pokemon the whole time, on an original DS so that tells you how long ago it was. Thank you so much for these, I’m taking a 7 hour flight in May so I’ll be saving these up for that. Although apparently they’re showing star wars TFA so that’s a couple of hours set. I second the previous suggestion of Monument Valley it’s gorgeous.

  10. Bejeweled. I actually had to uninstall this because I would literally sit for like 2 hours playing the Blitz version.

    Yes but Neko Atsume is really cool!!! =) If you recently upgraded, there are 4 new cats available to collect, new remodel and new items that are themed like the new sugary remodel.

  11. Usually during long-haul flights I watch a whole stack of movies, but last time I flew they only had about six movies, two of which were the different versions of Steel Magnolias.

    Two versions of Steel Magnolias will not get you through a twenty-four hour flight. Trust me, I tried.

    (“Drink the juice, Shelby!”)

  12. If we’re talking about podcasts, I have to recommend Wolf 359, the science fiction audio drama about 4 people on an isolated space station. It starts out comedic and episodic but develops an excellent, suspenseful arc-plot quickly, and it’s FANTASTIC for binge-listening.

    Commander Renee Minkowski has quickly become one of my favorite badass women space, and there are loads of other wonderful and complicated female characters, especially in the later seasons.

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