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The 15 Best Airplane Books for Long Flights

When it comes to long international flights, you can never have too many entertainment options. Movies on your seatback TV? Check. Your favorite tunes queued up on your phone? Can’t leave home without ’em. But there’s nothing like a really good book to while a few hours away.

I surveyed the staff at SmarterTravel and its sister sites to find out their all-time favorite books to read on a plane. They came back with spine-chilling thrillers, absorbing family dramas, and thought-provoking mysteries. Check out our list of the best airplane books, and then add your picks in the comments below.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Beatriz Williams

the secret life of violet grant book cover

“A vivacious narrator with a unique voice lured me into this novel with two intersecting plotlines,” says Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor at Cruise Critic, of The Secret Life of Violet Grant. “You get mystery, history, two love stories and lots of interesting and entertaining characters. And if you love it, there are a couple of (not as good) sequels.”

The Beach, Alex Garland

the beach book cover

For travelers who don’t mind visiting the darker side when they travel, Adam Coulter, Senior Editor at Cruise Critic U.K., recommends The Beach: “It’s common to do a gap year in the U.K. before university, often in Thailand—basically drinking, partying, taking drugs, etc. This book—which was made into a film with Leonardo DiCaprio—perfectly captures that hedonism (it was a zeitgeist book), but then goes very, very dark.”

Books by Liane Moriarty

big little lies book cover

Big Little Lies is a fun, twisty read that keeps you guessing,” says Colleen McDaniel, Senior Executive Editor at Cruise Critic. “Moriarty has a biting wit and clever sense of humor, and her books perfectly capture the highs and lows of friendships, relationships, and family. Pick up the book; you won’t be able to put it down.”

Cruise Critic SEO Analyst Tara Vitale is also a Liane Moriarty fan. “Two of her books specifically I could not put down: What Alice Forgot and The Husband’s Secret,” says Vitale. “I love these books because they were easy reads for me. The chapters weren’t ridiculously long, and they kept me intrigued. Both books had a sense of mystery at the end of each chapter that kept me wanting to read more. They would also have a few stories going on and then tie them all together at the end, which in most cases left me with my mind blown.”

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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Mohsin Hamid

how to get filthy rich in rising asia book cover

“It sounds like a crazy title to a book, but How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia was excellent and well worth the read,” says Mike Ewing, Vice President of TripAdvisor Cruise and General Manager of Cruise Critic, of this book that NPR called “a globalized version of The Great Gatsby.” Ewing adds, “Plus, it’s got Asia in the title, so it’s travel-appropriate.”

Aunt Dimity Series, Nancy Atherton

aunt dimity's death book cover

This series, which has grown to nearly two dozen books, is a favorite of Cruise Critic Senior Editor Dori Saltzman. “They’re sweet, and they leave me feeling like I want to be a better person than I am,” Saltzman says. “They’re about an American woman who inherits a vast amount of money and a small cottage in England from a friend of her mother’s she never knew. When she goes to England, she discovers that along with the money and the cottage is a leatherbound journal that allows her to communicate with Aunt Dimity. Each book is a mystery, but not necessarily a murder mystery. In fact, most of them are not murder mysteries. They’re more innocent than that.” You can start with the first book, Aunt Dimity’s Death.

Pretty Girls, Karin Slaughter

pretty girls book cover

Dark psychological thriller Pretty Girls “was definitely a page-turner for me when I was last on a plane,” says Courtney Elko, Editor at Family Vacation Critic. “It’s a bit of a thriller and a mystery with plenty of ‘whoa’ moments throughout.”

The Miss Peregrine Trilogy, Ransom Riggs

miss peregrine's peculiar children boxed set

“Unfortunately they’ve become a bit commercialized since the movie came out, but I LOVED the Miss Peregrine trilogy by Ransom Riggs,” says Ashley Kosciolek, Editor at Cruise Critic. “The author collects old photos from flea markets as a hobby, and he decided to write stories around them. They’re haunting and wonderful, and I couldn’t stop reading them.”

The Stand, Stephen King

the stand book cover

Sometimes nothing but a familiar favorite will do. For Michell Philpott, Community Support Specialist at Cruise Critic, The Stand—featuring a post-apocalyptic scenario in which a virus has wiped out most of the population—is “a perennial favorite that I like to reread on long flights.”

Books by Dan Brown

angels and demons book cover

There’s a reason Dan Brown’s books always seem to be on the shelves of airport bookstores; their fast pace and compelling plots make them perfect plane reading. Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code are “two of my favorites,” says Stephanie Moccio, SEO Manager at Cruise Critic. “I was kept in suspense the whole time.”

The Girl Who Smiled Beads, Clementine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

the girl who smiled beads book cover

“This searing memoir written by a survivor of the Rwandan genocide is impossible to put down,” says SmarterTravel Senior Editor Caroline Morse Teel of The Girl Who Smiled Beads. “You’ll learn a lot of difficult history along the way, and undoubtedly get off the plane feeling incredibly grateful to have the freedom and means to travel.”

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline

ready player one book cover

Multiple staffers, including Philpott and SmarterTravel Senior Director of Business Operations Stephen Lin, suggested Ready Player One, a sci-fi bestseller set in 2044 about a teenager trying to solve puzzles in an online virtual reality known as OASIS. Although it’s set in the future, it’s a paean to 80s pop culture.

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The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, Kirsty Wark

the legacy of elizabeth pringle book cover

The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle is a beautifully written book set in Scotland’s Arran Island,” says Kerry Spencer, Editor of Cruise Critic U.K. “The story is based around a woman (Elizabeth Pringle) who bequeaths her island home to a stranger upon her death—a stranger she once saw 30 years earlier pushing her baby in a pram past the house. The story reveals the life of the baby in the pram (Martha, now 30), how she is dealing with her mother’s failing health and her mission to find out about Elizabeth and why she left her house to her mother. The story is lovely, nostalgic and a little sad, and also has a bit of romance. I couldn’t put it down until I’d finished!”

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Max Brooks

world war z book cover

“If you can get past the movie and the absurd premise, World War Z is actually a fascinating book on how various elements would react to worldwide pandemic (government, military, commercial, nation states, shifting of jobs),” says Bradley Corrigan, former Group Product Manager of Revenue Products for The Independent Traveler, Inc.

I Know This Much Is True, Wally Lamb

i know this much is true book cover

“I gave myself eyestrain one summer vacation because I couldn’t put this sprawling family saga down for several days,” says Sarah Schlichter, Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. “I Know This Much Is True is about a pair of twins—one suffering from mental illness, the other trying to take care of him. The twists and turns of their family’s story kept me glued to the page, though travelers trying to pack light should get the ebook instead of the hard copy—it’s 900+ pages!”

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Books About Your Destination

turn right at machu picchu book cover

“I like to bring books that relate in some way to where I’ll be or what I’m doing,” writes Brittany Chrusciel, Editor at Cruise Critic. “It sort of amps the cinematic feel of being abroad or even just out of your element if you’re immersed in a book that also takes place in that country/culture.” She recommends The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon for Barcelona, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole for New Orleans, and After Dark by Haruki Murakami for Tokyo.

Andrew Haze, Associate Web Producer at Cruise Critic, read Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams before a trip to Peru, and says, “It really enriched the trip.”

What are your favorite airplane books? Post them in the comments below.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of IndependentTraveler.com. Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

Email Sarah at sschlichter@smartertravel.com.

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