The Danger Of Using Noise Canceling Headphones On A Plane

by joeheg

When traveling on an airplane, there are many reasons people wear noise-canceling headphones. Maybe you’re flying on an airline where you need to bring your own entertainment or you’d just prefer to binge-watch your own shows instead of depending on a random episode or two that the airline offers on their in-flight entertainment (IFE).

You also might want to listen to some podcasts or relaxing music without having to worry about hearing engine noise for the whole flight or, worst-case scenario, you need to drown out the sound of a crying child from the row behind you.

However, one thing you’ll miss out on when you’re wearing noise-canceling headphones is the flight announcements.

If you’re watching or listening to the IFE, any announcement from the flight attendants or the flight deck will preempt whatever you’re hearing on your headphones. At the beginning of the flight, you’ll miss the captain’s greeting and what to expect from your flight (duration, flight conditions and weather at your destination). During the flight, the flight attendants will announce the beginning of cabin service as well as let you know about the wonderful co-brand credit card that several passengers have already asked about. The captain or first officer might also come on during the flight to alert passengers of upcoming turbulence and request passengers to remain in their seats with their seatbelts fastened. At the end of the flight, you’ll get the announcement about the plane getting ready to land so you have to put away your bags and bring your seat to the full and upright position.

You might be thinking about why it’s so bad to miss these messages. Should you have to stop watching Real Housewives just to hear that you’re flying over the Grand Canyon?

It turns out that it’s the announcements you’re not expecting that could be the most important. If the plane is approaching a pocket of turbulence, that’s information I want to know beforehand because I might need to visit the lavatory after finishing my liter bottle of water.

What if you’re going to be stuck in a holding pattern for the next 30 minutes waiting for a storm that’s currently over the airport to clear? If you’re getting a ride, you’d be able to contact whoever is picking you up and let them know. Well, if the plane’s Wi-Fi is working.

I’ve tried to catch messages when I hear them through the noise-canceling but by the time I take off the headphones, the message is half over. Even worse, if I managed to nod off for a quick nap and wake up after the message is done. Not only am I no longer sleeping, I still don’t know what was said.

I just hope that if it was REALLY IMPORTANT, the passengers around me would let me know what happened.

Having your movie or TV show pause can be annoying, but I’d rather hear the announcements instead of listening to my own media. The best-case scenario is that the aircraft allows me to use my own headphones to hook into its IFE system (no funky plugs, thank you.) That way I get the noise-canceling capability and will still hear the announcements.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


bobo July 18, 2020 - 4:35 pm

Yeah, no – you won’t miss those announcements.

I can say with absolute certainty that 90% of my noise-cancelling headphone use consists of noise-cancelling only, and the other 10% is used for IFE.

100% of the time, the announcements are loud enough to still get through my Bose qc-25 over-ear headphones. And if I’m seated right under the PA, the announcements are piercingly loud. I’ve never missed a single one of these announcements, not for lack of trying.

Dipika July 28, 2020 - 11:30 am

I am totally agree with your point. one should not use noise canceling headphones in flight.

CHRIS January 24, 2022 - 6:46 pm

Captain’s greeting….lol……”The flight attendants are my representatives in the cabin…failure to comply blah, blah, blah….” Headphones back on

DaninMCI January 25, 2022 - 6:31 am

LOL, “Primarily here for your safety” blah, blah, blah “Masks are required” blah, blah. “I like to hear myself talk”….

DaninMCI January 25, 2022 - 6:29 am

Most IFE systems pause when announcements are made and most also broadcast that over the IFE so unless you are plugged into your Walkman or something you should be OK.

AngryFlier January 25, 2022 - 10:50 am

Have you ever actually used noise cancelling headphones? You know how they work, right? They zero out “white” background noise. They do not zero out things like conversations or announcements; those are merely muffled because you have big headphones covering your ears. Your missive has me thinking that perhaps you had the volume on your headphones cranked up to the same dB value as a Rolling Stones concert. In which case, you could have been wearing $8 Sony earbuds and you wouldn’t hear anything either.

So yes, I disagree with the entire premise of your article here.

D.A. May 27, 2023 - 10:35 pm

Can I program my noise cancelling headphones to block out those annoying Flight Attendant announcements pitching their stupid credit card?

Eye flyalot May 28, 2023 - 2:37 am

I have been on dozens of flights and have used high end noise cancelling headphones and earbuds from Sony, Bose, Jabra and Samsung and Agree 100% with Angryflyer that noise cancelling earphomes and buds make the announcements easier to hear and more clear by blocking out the engine noise. Maybe it’s the loud music the author is playing that’s causing the problem.


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