Flying This Summer? Why You Shouldn’t Forget Your Old-School Headphones

May 27, 2019

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As the summer travel season kicks into high gear, it is time to repack carry-on bags with all the newest electronics and gadgets for your next trip.

But travelers have increasingly found themselves on board with headphones that aren’t compatible with their airline’s inflight entertainment system. The problem? Airline systems haven’t kept pace with the evolution of consumer electronics.

Starting with the iPhone 7, Apple killed off the traditional headphone jack. Google followed with the Pixel line and other manufacturers have joined the party.

As a result, consumers now have a high chance of owning headphones that do not have the traditional 3.5mm connector necessary for using legacy audio systems on airplanes. Airlines often have headphones available for purchase, but they are low quality and unlikely to be worth keeping after the trip. If you show up on board with newer headsets (including Bluetooth headphones), expect to be disappointed.

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For those in love with their AirPods or other Bluetooth headphones, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. For years, manufacturers have insisted that integrating that technology into every seat on an aircraft would be too challenging. But that’s begun to change; multiple vendors are now offering solutions. The three largest players — Panasonic Avionics, Thales and Safran Aerosystems — all have a version of their inflight entertainment systems that allows customers to pair personal Bluetooth devices to screens at their seats.

Initial implementations of these new Bluetooth connections show a lot of promise.

The bad news? These new systems will take years to be adopted by airlines and installed in large numbers of planes. Safran’s first installation is slated for later in 2020 while the others have not yet announced any timing for installation. Retrofit specialist IFPL also has an option that allows airlines to add a Bluetooth connection to the jack in the armrest, saving cost and time for airlines that want to offer the connection now. The product was just introduced last month.

Airlines will catch up to the latest technologies eventually, maybe even before more new technology replaces the current state of the art. Until that happens, however, travelers must be prepared with older IFE options to ensure a happy trip.

Featured image: Chesnot/Getty Images

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