Flying is a magical thing. Nearly 100 years after the advent of commercial aviation, it’s still mind-blowing that you can buy a ticket and soar from one side of the world to the other in a matter of hours. As miraculous as it is, though, flying can also be stressful and confusing. It’s no surprise that once passengers are onboard and seated, most just want to strap on their favorite pair of wireless headphones and zone out for the rest of the flight.
But wait, is that allowed? Until just a few years ago, Bluetooth headphones were effectively banned from commercial flights, as were all personal electronics devices that relied on a wireless connection. Of course, if you’ve flown in the past five years, you know that in late 2013 the Federal Aviation Administration eased many of its previous restrictions on portable devices during all phases of flight — including takeoff and landing.
In other words, according to federal regulations, you’re absolutely allowed to use your favorite Bluetooth headphones or earphones from the time you board the plane. That’s the simple answer.
And if you’re flying within the continental United States, the simple answer will probably suffice. In truth, though, things can be more complicated depending on a handful of factors. Just because the FAA allows it doesn’t mean that your airline of choice doesn’t have its own rules and restrictions.
So, your best bet is to check with your airline before your flight to see what restrictions apply. Delta, for example, puts no restrictions on any sort of headphone use during any phase of its flights. Unless, that is, you’re flying into or out of Singapore or Jamaica, in which case all electronics must be turned off and stowed below 10,000 feet.
British Airways’ rules dictate specifically that Bluetooth devices must be turned off during taxi, take-off, and landing. Virgin Airlines, meanwhile, also places restrictions on Bluetooth headphones during take-off and landing but makes no mention of taxiing.
Of course, no matter the restrictions on your Bluetooth headphones themselves, there are still rules regulating the devices they’re paired with. If you use your smartphone for gaming and music, make sure it’s in airplane mode once you roll back from the gate. You might also have to specifically re-enable Bluetooth connectivity after airplane mode is turned on. If your portable listening device of choice is a tablet or laptop, you’ll probably need to stow it in the seatback pocket during takeoff and landing.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you might not be able to charge your headphones during your flight, as many planes still don’t have USB or any form of power at the seat. Just in case, it’s a safe bet to make sure your wireless headphones support wired connectivity by way of Everplay-X, found on Phiaton’s BT 390 on-ear foldable headphones and 900 Legacy over-the-ears active noise cancelling headphones, as well as the BT 100 NC and BT 220 NC wireless earphones. That way you’re good to go no matter what pesky rules might pop up.
While it’s nice to know the rules ahead of time so you can plan, your flight attendants always have the leeway to suspend those rules at their discretion. If you’re asked to remove your wired or wireless headphones during the flight, please do so. Chances are good that it’s for your safety.
By Dennis Burger
June 13, 2018