The correct way to wear a neck pillow

Jul 11, 2021

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Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information. It originally appeared in June 2019. 


I’ll never forget my first neck pillow. After a long-haul flight proved to be a pain in the neck, I was willing to throw money at any possible solution in the airport gift shop.

Pillow purchased, I settled into my return flight with a sense of hope, and after dinner and a movie I drifted off to sleep with my neck pillow in place. But rather than slumber peacefully as the photo on the label suggested, I was jerked awake when my chin fell forward.

After deciding U-shaped travel pillows were a waste of space in my carry-on, I gave the pillow away. Then, more than 10 years later, I discovered it wasn’t the pillow, it was me. I’d been using it the wrong way around.

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While almost everyone you see on a plane wears the pillow around the back of their neck with the gap at the front, it works a whole lot better if you flip it and reverse it — as demonstrated in this viral Tik Tok video. With the gap at the back, your head is supported, eliminating the strain on your neck if it falls from side to side, chin securely in place.

I’ll admit to feeling like a fool when I decided to give a second travel pillow a chance and wear it ‘backward’. I could see other neck pillow users looking at me in confusion, but I simply smiled, popped in my earplugs, pulled on my eye mask and settled down to sleep.

And sleep I did. The few times I woke through the night flight due to turbulence I felt a sense of comfort from the pillow’s position and fell back to sleep easily in a U-shaped hug. By the time we landed, I was such a convert I wanted to tell everyone carrying a travel pillow off the plane that they had to try it the other way around.

Granted, there are some times when you don’t want to wear it under your chin. The reverse position doesn’t work well at mealtimes or when you’re having something to drink. And, until I find one with an Elizabethan ruff design that takes the whole look to a so-silly-it-works level, I’ll continue using my neck pillow as lumbar support while watching movies.

Then, when it’s time for shut-eye I’ll look like the person who has the wrong end of the stick but is sleeping soundly. Until word gets out and more of us use the humble U-shaped pillow in the way it can do its best work. I’ve yet to see anyone else on a plane wearing it that way, but look forward to the day we can nod at each other.

One final thing: When it comes to the right way to wear them around your neck when you’re walking around the airport, let’s agree that forwards, backward and sideways are all off the table. Loop them around the handles of your bag and avoid turning heads for the wrong reason. Until my ruff design comes out, that is. Then it will look awesome.

Featured photo by Getty Images

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