5 reasons Apple’s AirPods Pro are my new go-to for long-haul flights

Nov 7, 2019

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It’s been just over a week since Apple’s brand-new AirPods Pro launched. After a few days listening to music and making phone calls with the new headphones, I’m still impressed with Apple’s latest ear candy. But my experience on the ground only tells part of the story.

Many travelers swear by over-ear noise-canceling headphones, and I’ve long been of the same mindset. But on a recent trip to Brussels, I left my Bose QuietComfort headphones at home and instead took along the AirPods Pro. After this trip, I think I’ll be leaving my over-ear headphones at home the next time I’m traveling — here’s why.

In This Post

Active noise cancellation really works

Perhaps the main question I’ve received since I first wrote about the AirPods Pro is “how does the noise cancellation compare to over-ear headphones?” As I mentioned in my initial impressions, the noise isolation on the AirPods Pro is markedly better than the standard AirPods, but not as good as some of the best over-ear headphones on the market.

After my two flights using the new AirPods, I’m thrilled to report that the active noise cancellation is much better than I initially thought. I could barely hear the ambient plane noise when wearing the AirPods Pro inflight. Even more impressively, the AirPods did a fantastic job at silencing nearby distractions, such as the crying baby three rows behind me and the loud video game that my seatmate was playing.

Sure, over-ear headphones are top dog when it comes to noise cancellation, but most travelers will find the AirPods Pro to be more than adequate.

Transparency mode is really useful

In the past, I’ve paused my music and removed one AirPod when I heard an important PA message at an airport or during a flight. With transparency mode on the AirPods Pro, I’ve been able to keep my music playing while being clued in to what’s going on around me.

Transparency mode has also helped me maintain situational awareness, even while listening to music or a podcast. When walking around Brussels, a new city for me, I kept my AirPods on transparency mode so I could get a sense for what was going on around me. 

The best part is the ease with which you can toggle between the various modes that the AirPods Pro offer. With a short tap and hold on the force sensor located on the stem of each individual pod, you can switch between transparency mode and active noise cancellation, leaving you with no excuse for missing the final boarding call.

Battery life is solid

The battery life on Apple’s new AirPods Pro pretty much matches the standard AirPods. Both of my flights were around seven hours, and the AirPods Pro died when each flight was about 75% complete. Apple advertises four and a half hours of listening time with active noise cancellation turned on, and my experience pretty much confirms those estimates.

Over-ear headphones definitely have larger batteries than the AirPods Pro, but recharging the AirPods Pro is so fast and easy that I wouldn’t really consider battery life much of a drawback. Whenever I went to the bathroom or walked around the cabin, I put my AirPods in the charging case, which gave me about another hour of listening time for each five-minute break.

There’s a way to connect them to inflight entertainment

The biggest issue with using the AirPods Pro on my flights was the inability to connect them to the inflight entertainment system. Until inflight entertainment systems allow Bluetooth pairing with personal headphones (a kid can dream), you won’t be able to use the AirPods with inflight entertainment systems.

However, TwelveSouth’s AirFly accessory addresses this exact problem. With a small dongle, you can connect your AirPods Pro (and other wireless headphones) to wired headphone jacks. I didn’t have AirFly on my recent flights, but I’ve heard good things about the product and look forward to testing it soon.

Image courtesy of Twelve South

I know it’s not ideal to purchase and travel with a dongle, but it’s a small price to pay for the portability of AirPods Pro.

The portability makes up for any shortcomings

One of the best travel-friendly features of the new AirPods Pro is the portability. In my opinion, being able to carry great noise-cancelling headphones in my pocket is incredible. The AirPods Pro and charging case weigh a combined 2 ounces and take up much, much less volume than over-ear headphones.

Even though over-ear headphones have better noise cancellation, longer battery life and can easily connect to inflight entertainment, they’re really big. I almost exclusively travel with carry-on bags, and when I’ve had trouble in the past fitting all my belongings in my bag, the first thing to stay home was my over-ear headphones. With AirPods Pro, I don’t need to worry about using precious carry-on space for my headphones. 

Bottom line

I’m just about ready to leave my over-ear noise-cancelling headphones at home on future trips. If you’re really sensitive to noise or want the best noise-cancellation in the headphone market, then you should stick to over-ear headphones.

But for other travelers, the AirPods Pro are great. The noise cancellation is impressive, transparency mode is really useful and battery life is pretty good. You may need a dongle to connect them to inflight entertainment, but the AirPods Pro are so small that you won’t even notice the extra accessory.

Overall, considering their size, the AirPods Pro are some of the best headphones a traveler can buy.

All photos by the author except where noted.

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