If you have an upcoming trip and you just got a new pair of AirPods, you may be wondering whether or not you can safely use your AirPods on a plane.
Yes, you can use your AirPods on a plane. In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) informed airlines that they could safely expand passenger use of “Portable Electronic Devices” (PEDs) during all phases of flight. AirPods fall into the PED category and can therefore be used gate-to-gate on most airlines today!
The FAA is the legal body that provides guidance on, and the approval of the use of electronics on planes. But ultimately it is up to the individual airlines themselves to decide what devices they will, or won’t allow.
Read on to learn exactly which airlines allow AirPod use.
AirPods are considered “PEDs”
A PED is a “Portable Electronic Device”. It’s any piece of “lightweight, electrically-powered equipment”.
Examples range from handheld devices such as tablets, e-readers, and smartphones to small devices such as MP3 players, electronic toys and headphones.
Therefore, your AirPods are PEDs.
Apple’s newest AirPods use Bluetooth 5.0 in order to connect. That is, if you’re connecting them to a non-Apple product.
If you’re connecting them to another Apple device, your AirPods actually use a proprietary protocol that simplifies and reduces connection time.
This protocol is built into a chip Apple calls the “H1” processor.
If you’ve ever used Bluetooth in the past, you know it can be frustrating trying to establish an initial connection. The H1 chip allows two Apple products to connect in under 3 seconds.
It “just works”.
But what’s important here is that in the eyes of the FAA, AirPods are PEDs, and they use Bluetooth technology.
FAA ruling on expanded PED use
Believe it or not, the first PED FAA regulations were established all the way back in 1966.
Back then, travelers wanted to bring their portable FM radios on the plane with them. So the FAA ran a few tests. What they found was a bit shocking – FM radios repeatedly caused interference with the plane’s navigations systems!
As technology has changed and advanced over the years, the FAA has conducted a handful of followup PED studies. Nowadays, PEDs come with WiFi, Bluetooth and a variety of other technologies built-in.
More recently, towards the end of 2013, the FAA published a 222 page report detailing “Recommendations on Expanding the Use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) During Flight“.
The goal was to further clarify and “provide guidance on allowing additional PEDs, without compromising the continued safe operation of the aircraft”.
Today, airplanes are designed and certified to withstand interference from PEDs. So it makes a lot of sense to revisit older restrictions that were put in place years ago.
And the resulting recommendation was that airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight!
(As AirPod owners, the specific language we’re interested in from this report is: “You can continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories“).
What about Airplane mode?
While the FAA did approve wide-use of PEDs on planes, they remained firm on NOT allowing the use of cellular data. That’s because cell phones send a different, longer range signal which still poses a risk to planes.
So for now, switching your phone to Airplane mode (shutting off your cell data) while on your flight, is still a federal requirement.
But don’t worry, if you were hoping to connect your AirPods to your iPhone, you’re still in luck.
Bluetooth still works just fine even when your phone is in Airplane mode! Simply switch your phone to Airplane mode first, and then turn your Bluetooth back on.
Domestic Airline rulings on AirPod use
As mentioned, it is ultimately up to individual airlines to decide which electronics they allow on their planes.
Luckily, all of the top 10 domestic (US) airlines allow in-flight use of AirPods.
All but Allegiant allow you to use your AirPods during the entire flight: during taxi, takeoff and landing (otherwise known as “gate-to-gate”).
Allegiant’s website does not explicitly say “gate-to-gate” use is allowed. Instead they say that the in-flight crew will “notify all passengers when it is safe to use their devices”.
Here is exact electronic-use policy wording for each of the top ten domestic airlines:
|Airline||Allowed?||Exact policy wording|
|Delta||Yes, gate-to-gate||Policy allows customers to use portable electronic devices, all in airplane mode, during taxi, takeoff and landing on flights.|
|Southwest||Yes, gate-to-gate||Customers may use small portable electronic devices (PEDs) in “airplane mode” from gate to gate|
|United||Yes, gate-to-gate||Within the U.S. (including U.S. territories), travelers may use permitted small, lightweight portable electronic devices in non-cellular transmitting mode at all times.|
|Alaska||Yes, gate-to-gate||You may use small portable electronic devices during all phases of the flight provided they are in ‘airplane/game’ mode, unless the Captain directs the devices to be turned off.|
|American||Yes, gate-to-gate||You can use your cell phone, laptop and other electronic devices onboard until advised by the flight crew, but phone calls aren’t allowed during flight.|
|Jetblue||Yes, gate-to-gate||Portable Electronic Device use will be allowed on JetBlue aircraft during all phases of flight, including taxi, take off, cruise, and landing except during certain low-visibility landings.|
|Hawaiian||Yes, gate-to-gate||You may use portable electronic devices from departure gate to arrival gate on our domestic and most phases of our international routes.|
|Spirit||Yes, gate-to-gate||Small portable electronic devices (PEDs) may be used during all phases of flight including taxi, take-off and landing.|
|Frontier||Yes, gate-to-gate||Passengers can use personal electronic devices in “airplane mode” during all phases of flight.|
|Allegiant||Yes, in-flight crew determines when||Laptops, portable movie players, portable music players, and other approved devices can be used onboard the aircraft. The in-flight crew members will notify all passengers when it is safe to use these devices.|
Do AirPods work with In-Flight Entertainment?
Unfortunately, most in-flight entertainment systems on planes today do not work with Bluetooth.
In the majority of cases, you’re better off using the free headphones provided to you. Or, if you have your own pair of wired headphones, use those.
That said, there is some good news.
First, you can buy an airline Bluetooth adapter that plugs into the in-flight entertainment system. This enables you to connect your AirPods through the adapter.
I’ve heard mixed results on this, so definitely do your own research before buying anything, but it is an option.
The second piece of good news is airlines like United and Qatar are starting to build their planes with built in Bluetooth capabilities.
That means no more wires! Just sit down and pair your wireless AirPods directly to the in-flight system.
Traveling through TSA with your AirPods
Of course, in order to use your AirPods on the plane in the first place, you’ll have to successfully get through security with them.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approves headphones in both checked and carry-on bags.
Furthermore, you do not need to take your AirPods out of your baggage when going through security!
Per the TSA, “You will be asked to remove personal electronic devices larger than a cell phone from your carry-on bag and place them into a bin with nothing placed on or under them for X-ray screening.”
So, if you have a tablet, laptop, gaming console, etc. then take it out. But you can keep your AirPods and similar sized electronics in your bag.
The FAA approved the use of Bluetooth on planes back in 2013. That means you can safely, and legally, use your AirPods, gate-to-gate!
You are still required to switch your phone to airplane mode however, as cell data still posses a risk during active flight.
Finally, the TSA approves AirPods in both carry on and checked baggage, and they don’t require you to take your AirPods out of your bag at security checkpoints.