All the things I discovered while using my AirPods Pro on an airplane for the first time

One of the things I like most about flying is the fact that it gives me time to slow down and catch up on things. Things like podcasts, good music, and movies. And with the combination of my iPhone and AirPods, it makes catching up extremely fun and easy. It’s not the perfect combination though, so I’ve been meaning to write the ultimate AirPods Pro airplane test for a while now. This post is a consolidation of my thoughts about using AirPods Pro on an airplane for the very first time.

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A brief history on my love and hate relationship with the Apple AirPods

It all started in October 2018 when I replaced my old iPhone 6s with an iPhone X. One week later, I was at the San Diego International Airport on my way to catch an Icelandair flight to Reykjavík out of San Francisco, and I had a sudden urge to catch up on some podcasts. However, my shiny new iPhone X didn’t have a headphone jack, and there was no way for me to listen to any episodes on the flight without purchasing a new pair of headphones.

Long story short, I bought an overpriced pair of AirPods (the original release) from the electronics shop near gate 48.

At first, I was really happy with my purchase. The AirPods were indeed perfect for listening to podcasts on airplanes. However, I quickly discovered that they were absolutely terrible for listening to music while in the air, because they didn’t block enough ambient sound and I had to turn the volume up all the way in order to hear anything. Even then, all I heard were the highs, and none of the lows.

My AirPods remained in my carry-on bag unused for the most part because they were so worthless for flying.

Fast forward to one year later, and the announcement of the AirPods Pro with active noise canceling. Would this be the answer to all my problems? I had very high hopes, and decided to place an order for a pair in January of this year. I finally received them in early February, and I took them on their maiden voyage on a Japan Airlines flight from San Diego to Narita just last week.

AirPods Pro airplane test

Do you have any idea how long I’ve waited to do the AirPods Pro airplane test? Here we go!

All the things I like about the AirPods Pro for flying

Before telling you all the things that I really liked about these wireless headphones, I just want to say that overall my experience was quite good. I do believe the AirPods Pro are worth every penny of the retail price, and I’m very satisfied with my purchase so far. Here are all the specific things that I really like in regards to AirPods Pro and air travel:

  • Just like most products in the Apple ecosystem, everything just works. My AirPods Pro connect to my iPhone every single time, and I never have to wait for a solid connection.
  • The noise cancellation feature of the AirPods Pro are indeed powerful enough to block the sound of a loud aircraft interior (well, everything except for American Airlines MD-83’s that is). Unlike my original pair of AirPods that I bought back in late 2018, my new pair of AirPods Pro makes it possible for me to listen to and enjoy music while in flight. Finally!
  • Because of the in ear design, sound is much richer and fuller with the AirPods Pro compared to the regular AirPods. So not only is it possible to use my AirPods Pro for flying, I can do so very happily because they sound great for all types of music. From old school rap, to some very chill Billie Eilish, I can hear every note in perfect detail I can hear every note in near-perfect detail.
  • The connection between the AirPods Pro and my iPhone is very strong. As a matter fact, I was able to leave my phone at my seat while using the lavatory at the back of the plane, and the connection remain solid the entire time. It never once dropped out.
  • The small size makes the AirPods Pro ideal for flying. Not only the earbuds themselves – the charging case is very small and lightweight as well, and I’m able to stick it in the smallest nooks and crannies (in the deepest nether regions) of my carry-on bag.
AirPods Pro on an airplane

There’s a lot to like about using AirPods Pro on an airplane. I wonder how many people sitting around me thought I was a tech blogger as I sat here taking pics of my fancy new ‘buds. I swear I even heard one of them whisper: “Tech bloggers are SO cool – MUCH cooler than airline bloggers!”

All the things I don’t like about the AirPods Pro for flying

As you just read above, I am generally very happy with the AirPods Pro when it comes to listening to them on airplanes. However, it’s not a completely perfect experience, and these are the issues that I faced:

  • Because of the in-ear design, the AirPods Pro are definitely not as comfortable as my original pair of AirPods. I have to push these earbuds deep into my ear canal to be able to get a good seal in to get the most out of the noise cancellation feature, and this results in mild ear pain after about an hour or so. it’s not a big deal, but it’s definitely an issue worth mentioning.
  • Battery life is just so so. I’ve never been able to get more than three hours on a single charge, so this alone is one of the biggest drawbacks to using the AirPods Pro under an airplane. Especially on long flights such as Los Angeles to Dubai, San Francisco to Melboure, or Singapore to Los Angeles. In cases such as those, it’s best to have other plans that don’t include listening to your own music or podcasts for very long.
  • At the time of this writing, it’s not possible to use the AirPods Pro with in-flight entertainment systems. Well, more specifically the issue is that they won’t talk to each other directly. However, it is possible to use AirPods Pro with in-flight entertainment systems via a Bluetooth transponder device that you plug directly into the audio port under the video screen. Then, simply connect your AirPods Pro to that device via Bluetooth and voilà! So – while it is technically possible, it is a multi-step process and not completely seamless.
  • Be careful if you fall asleep while wearing your AirPods! If they are not inserted firmly into your ears, they will have the tendency to fall out if you not off and you aren’t paying attention. I learned this the hard way by nodding off for about an hour on that San Diego to Tokyo flight and I woke up with only one AirPod in my ear. I had to go crawling around on the floor to find the other. It would’ve been an expense mistake if I couldn’t find that little bugger!
AirPods Pro vs over-the-ear headphones

Me wearing the AirPods Pro vs. my seatmate wearing over-the-ear headphones. Which would you choose? I mean…the headphones. Not me or my seatmate.

Frequently asked questions about using AirPods Pro on an airplane

As I just mentioned, I was extremely excited to do the AirPods Pro airplane test. Would the noise cancellation feature be good enough? Would they be comfortable enough to wear for hours on end? Just how long will the batteries last? Will it be possible to use them on very long flights? These are just some the questions I had, and here are the following are the answers (and more):

Does the noise cancellation feature make AirPods Pro good for flying?

Yes! The biggest complaint I had about my original pair of AirPods with that I found it extremely difficult to listen to music since the ambient sound of aircraft interiors is too overpowering. The noise cancellation feature of the AirPods Pro solve this issue, and now I can listen to music at normal (safe) volume.

AirPods Pro for flying

Hard to believe that something so small can block so much sound. #mindblown

How comfortable are the AirPods Pro? Are they suitable for wearing on long flights?

I briefly mentioned above that I was experiencing minor ear pain after about one hour of use. I am a medium sized guy, and I use the medium sized tips that Apple provides in the box. Yet – I feel like they’re almost too tight when wearing them for longer durations. Everyone’s experience will be different of course, but that’s just mine.

Is the battery life on the AirPods Pro suitable for long flights?

Any flight longer than three hours will be an issue for the AirPods Pro. That’s about the maximum amount of time I’ve ever got from a single charge, but there is good news: The charging case will charge the AirPods very quickly, and my (very unscientific) tests prove that I can get approximately a 75% recharge with just 15 minutes of charging time.

So – when the batteries die, and they eventually will, use that as an opportunity to take a break, stretch your legs, and go use the lavatory. Your AirPods Pro will be sufficiently charged for more use when you get back to your seat.

AirPods Pro battery life

Whatever you do, do not lose the charging case. Thanks to relatively short battery life, AirPods (any version) are pretty much useless without it.

Are the AirPods Pro really worth $250?

If all you need is a well-built and very reliable pair of earbuds with noise cancellation, then yes – the AirPods Pro are most definitely worth the retail price of $250. However, if you are extremely picky about the sound quality of your music and you will absolutely not tolerate anything but the absolute best, then these are not for you. In that case, a pair of over-the-ear headphones such as the Bose 700’s are what you’re looking for.

What do the AirPods Pro sound like on an airplane with the noise cancellation feature turned off?

It’s pretty lousy actually. You won’t hear any detail in your music, and you’ll have to turn the volume up very high to hear muffled voices or soft sounds. Basically, it’s just like the original AirPods – which I could never listen to on airplanes because I simply couldn’t hear anything.

Will the AirPods Pro blocks snoring sounds from other passengers?

Not entirely, but I’d say that it cuts down on the snoring sound by about 75%. Sitting next to a loud snorer on an airplane is one of my biggest travel pet peeves ever, so For me, this is one of the best reasons to use AirPods Pro on an airplane.

Will the AirPods Pro block sound from crying babies?

Not entirely, but enough to make a big difference. My extremely unscientific guesstimate is that sounds from crying babies on airplanes is reduced by about 50%. Of course, it all depends on the baby (and how angry it is), so your results may vary. But the noise cancellation feature certainly helps!

SANspotter airpods pro airplane test

Crying babies? Bring it! Unless it’s really ornery of course…

Does the noise canceling feature of the AirPods Pro work even if you’re not listening to music or podcasts?

Yes. As a matter of fact, this is one of the biggest reasons why I like using my AirPods Pro for flying. Much of the time I am far too busy taking pictures and getting video footage for my trip reports, and I’m not in the mood for listening to music or podcasts. However, the noise cancellation feature is instantly activated and placed into the ears, end it drowns out the ambient sounds all around me, and I can work in peace and quiet (in my own little world).

Is it possible to still hear announcements from the cabin crew when wearing the AirPods Pro?

Yes. Unless you’re on an older aircraft with in archaic PA system that has no volume, you’ll have no problem hearing crew announcements while wearing your AirPods Pro with the noise cancellation feature on. It doesn’t block ambient sound 100%, so you’ll still be able to hear louder events such as cabin crew announcements.

Is it possible to have conversations with other people while wearing the AirPods Pro?

Since my goal is to create the ultimate AirPods Pro airplane test, I figured this question was worth including. FYI, whenever I was wearing my AirPods Pro with noise cancellation feature on, I was not able to have a normal conversation with the cabin crew. In other words, when it was time to eat and they arrived at my seat with the meal cart, I couldn’t hear anything that they asked me. Not very cleanly anyway. In situations like this, I had to remove the earbuds entirely.

airpods pro for flying review

Need to have an intelligent conversation with someone? Do yourself a favor and put the AirPods back in the case before doing so. Otherwise, you won’t hear half of what they’re saying. Come to think of it…maybe that’s a good thing?

My final thoughts about using the AirPods Pro on airplanes

To close this out, I just need to say that this AirPods Pro airplane test was something that I had been looking forward to doing since the day they were announced. I have very high expectations, and if the Air Pods Pro worked as advertised, they would be the solution to all my in-flight entertainment problems.

And you know what? I am completely satisfied with my purchase. The AirPods Pro aren’t perfect, but I am perfectly satisfied with the way that they’ve work on airplanes. As a matter of fact, I consider them to be a must have travel gadget, and you’ll be seeing me where these things in many trip reports and videos for the foreseeable future.

    1. Andrew March 15, 2020
      • SANspotter March 16, 2020

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