I have been buying – and swiftly thereafter throwing away – neck-encircling travel pillows for decades. They never quite deliver, I find, when you want to grab a couple of hours’ shuteye on the red eye.
The original blow-up versions, made of the same rough, rubberised canvas-type material as the better type of airbed, were far too harsh on the skin, and the stitched join was sharp and unpleasant. What’s more, they were too fat and hard when fully inflated; but let some air out and they were too floppy and insubstantial.
Next came those stuffed with some kind of polystyrene balls, which are a little more comfortable but give no control over the level of hardness. They are also highly impractical, as their voluminous size means they dominate your carry-on luggage.
So I gave up on neck pillows for many years – until recently, that is, when late one night at JFK I was looking around the airside Brookstone store. This US chain, which I’ve featured on Technopolis TV, can be relied upon for a good selection of unusual products, both technological and otherwise, and it was there that I spotted – and bought – this latest take on the ubiquitous but useless neck pillow.
The auto-inflating travel uPillow ($50) is made of memory foam, which is a good pillow material. In this application, however, it is also suffused with holes and is therefore compressible to fit sensibly in a travel bag. When you need to inflate it, it does most of the job itself; air whooshes into the holes as soon as you twist a screw valve. It inflates to a comfortable level in less than a minute. If you want the uPillow harder, you can blow into the valve; to make it softer you just squeeze it. Getting the right level is easy and satisfying.
I wouldn't say uPillow quite allows the sleep of the gods – napping semi-upright, even in a business-class seat, is hardly ideal – but with it I’m getting the best airborne zzzs I’ve experienced yet.