I was sitting there on the airplane with shredded wires and a semi-disassembled pair of airplane headphones in front of me, trying to figure out how to get them to work and realizing that someone might think I’m assembling a bomb on a plane. That wasn’t my best choice, but what I was trying to do was get the airplane’s movie sound in both ears. The plane had those annoying two-hole plugins and my headphones just had one ear and it was a failed experiment from the start. But I decided on that flight that it was stupid to ever take a flight again without an adaptor so that I could listen to a movie with both ears, regardless of what the airline provided.
This week’s tip from The Prepared Expat: get some basic accessibility that will improve your airplane movie experience.Read more: Tips & Tricks: Improve your airplane movie experience
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Why you should prepare accessories
Unlike most weeks when I give a detailed “why,” this week is quite simple: airplane headphones stink and if you’re taking a flight long enough to watch a movie (or several!), then it’s worth a little effort to improve your experience. You’ll find that not only does your movie experience improve, but your overall flight experience and, depending on the headphones you get, you may even arrive more refreshed than you otherwise would.
What accessories to pack
So here’s a few basic things to prepare that will significantly improve your flight experience:
First, bring your own headphones.
Nearly any pair of headphones on the planet will be an improvement over the headphones an airline provides, so bring whatever you use and like at home. However, if you’re looking for the best headphones for a flight, here are three suggestions for you:
- Get wireless (Bluetooth) headphones. You don’t have to worry about unplugging them when you stand up or about someone tripping over them when they get out of your aisle. Super convenient; it sounds small, but going wide-free is a massive improvement for your overall experience.
- Use active noise-canceling headphones. Not all noise-canceling is made equal; what you want is active noise canceling (ANC), which dynamically adapts to the noises around you to silence them. This matters immensely because part of the stress your body experiences on the plane is from the constant background noise of the engines. By using noise-canceling headphones, you’ll remove that noise, reduce your stress, sleep easier, and arrive more refreshed.
- Buy over-the-ear headphones rather than on-the-ear or in-the-ear headphones. I mistakenly bought a pair of headphones that were on-the-ear headphones and they worked fine for my daily use. But the slight pressure they out on the ears, not noticeable after an hour of use, was painful after 14 hours straight on a plane. An over-the-ear style will rest on your skull and not put any pressure on your ears. Over-the-ear is also superior to in-the-ear (like earbuds) because it will create better sound isolation and canceling. Now, some in-the-ear headphones create quite a good seal and will work well for you, but many don’t have a good fit.
Put that all together, and what you want are wireless, active noise-canceling, over-the-ear headphones.
A couple comments on some popular headphones:
- AirPods – convenient for their wireless capability, but no noise canceling and a poor fit makes them less than ideal for a plane ride (even though I loved them for everyday usage).
- AirPods Pro – worth the extra cost over AirPods for their noise cancelation and superior fit. I love them for everyday usage, but I’ve not yet taken them on a plane, so I don’t know how they’ll work in that environment. I’ll update this article once I do, as I’m eager to test it out.
- Sony WH-CH700N – Aggressive noise cancellation that in my opinion is too much for everyday usage, but it’s great for a plane. Even though they’re technically over-the-ear, they do put light pressure on your ear which can become uncomfortable after a long haul, depending on your ear shape/size.
- Bose QuietComfort – I haven’t personally used these, but know many expats who have and love them. Industry-leading noise-cancellation and an over-the-ear design. Pricier than other options, but if you have the means, I’ve heard they’re worth it.
Second, get some adaptors.
Specifically, you want to get two things:
- Two-hole to one-hole adaptor — This takes the airplane’s two-hold headphone jack and converts it into a one-hole (normal) headphone jack so you can use regular wired headphones or accessories with their movie screen. (The technical name is: dual 3.5mm male to 3.5mm female adaptor)
- Headphone splitter — This allows you to plug more than one headphone into the same audio jack, enabling two people to share audio while watching the same movie. (The technical name is: 3.5mm male to dual 3.5mm female splitter)
Both these adaptors are cheap enough (and easy enough to lose) that I bring several with me on the plane.
Third, get a wireless transmitter
A wireless transmitter plugs into the airplane’s wired connection and transmits the audio wirelessly (usually via Bluetooth) so you can connect your wireless headphones to the airplane’s movie screen. Going wireless is a small change, but it makes a surprisingly large difference in the experience of your flight. You don’t have to worry about people tripping on the wires, accidentally pulling them out, them getting tangled in your seat-back table, or pausing your movie and removing wires when someone from your aisle needs to exit.
There’s lots of options, but I’ve personally had great results with the AirFly, made by TwelveSouth and would recommend them to you as a high-quality, time-tested option that comes from a solid company known for its quality accessories.
Fourth, prepare some backup options
This isn’t strictly necessary but I like to have a couple items to make sure I have a “backup” in case something doesn’t work. I pack a backup 3.5mm audio cable that connects my wireless headphones to the audio jack—in case the wireless transmitter doesn’t work or has a dead battery. I also pack chargers for my headphones & my Bluetooth transmitter. Nice long cables are a bonus if you’d ever have to wear them while charging (for super long flights). If you use an iPhone with a Lightning cable & not audio jack, then it’s also wise to have an extra Lightning-to-audio jack adaptor on hand as well.
Fifth, pack it all together
Again, this is optional, but I find it nice to have all these things in one baggie so it’s all prepared in once place. It’s easy ti lose those pesky little adaptors.
So there you have it! A few accessories that will greatly improve your movie experience, make your flight more convenient and pleasant, and (with noise-canceling headphones, at least) reduce the stress your body goes through on the flight!
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Flying with kids?
Make sure to check out my parent-approved tips for flying with young kids.
You can also check out other travel tips as part of The Prepared Expat’s growing archive of tips and tricks for expats.