Air travel is great. It’s fast and it gives travelers access to a world of new adventures and cultures. But flying itself isn’t always the most pleasant experience, and there’s a frustrating disconnect between the technology available to the average person, and what’s on the average aircraft. Long-haul aircraft especially are usually over a decade old. So the problem becomes, what do you do with your Bluetooth headphones when you want to watch one of the stale movies and TV shows available on the inflight entertainment?
Twelve South AirFly Pro
The first option is the free earbuds available on many flights. These are universally terrible, and unless you’re flying business class, they’re definitely not noise canceling. Even cheap Bluetooth headphones are likely better than what they give out on the plane.
The next option is a Bluetooth transmitter like the AirFly Pro from Twelve South. These have a 3.5mm jack on one end and connect wirelessly to your BT headphones. With these, you can connect your BT headphones to any device with an analog output. That includes not just aircraft, but anything with a headphone jack.
After using the AirFly Pro, I’ve found it has become an indispensable part of my kit. It lets me keep my wired headphones at home.
AirFly Pro comes with some easy-to-understand instructions, a cap for the 3.5mm jack with a keyring loop, and a USB charging cable. You’d expect a device like this to use the older Micro-USB connection, but thankfully it uses USB-C. There’s also a small pouch to carry it all.
There’s one button and a toggle on the AirFly. The toggle switches between the two modes of the device. For a flight you’ll want the “TX” mode, in which the AirFly acts as a transmitter. The “RX” mode changes it to a receiver, letting you send audio from your phone or tablet to anything with an “AUX” analog input, such as your car.
I recommend turning off your phone’s Bluetooth to make it easier for your headphones to connect to the AirFly. Once it’s connected to the headphone jack, all you need to do is press and hold the single button. A small LED flashes white and amber. At this point you put your headphones into pairing mode. How to do this varies. Sometimes all you need to do is open the case with the headphones still inside, other times there are buttons to press either on the case or the headphones themselves. The AirFly’s instructions warn that this could take up to 90 seconds. It took about 45 to pair with some Sony WF-1000XM4s, but only about 10 when I added a pair of Status Between 3ANC. And then… it just works. You can put your headphones away, turn off the AirFly, and they will reconnect when you turn them back on.
Sound-wise I didn’t experience any issues, and with a device like this you’re mostly limited by the mediocre source (also known as the airplane audio system). During my testing I wasn’t subjected to any dropouts or other related connection problems. The one thing I did notice, however, was a slight lipsync error. This is a problem inherent to Bluetooth, unless your earbuds and the source have Bluetooth Low Latency.
I decided to test the amount of delay by playing a test pattern on my laptop and seeing what the delay was with the XM4s connected directly (none). Then I connected them to the AirFly which was plugged into my laptop’s headphone jack. The result was a slight delay, less than a 10th of a second, according to the video test. Perceptible? Yes, but barely. If you easily see lip sync timing errors, then it might bother you. However, it was still within the industry recommended range of +/-22ms and I doubt most people would notice it.
You should be able to find the AirFly Pro in larger electronic stores and online, and you’ll probably be able to find it in larger airports. I bought mine while waiting for a flight at Heathrow, having looked in several small stores in London without success. The downside of buying it at an airport is, of course, a much higher price. I paid £75, or about $95, while the price on Amazon is $55. Yeah, definitely better to buy ahead of time.
There are three versions of the AirFly: the AirFly SE ($35), AirFly Duo ($45) and AirFly Pro ($55), which is the one I tested. The SE connects to one set of headphones and has approximately 20 hours of battery life. The Duo lets you connect two pairs of headphones plus adds a few more hours of battery life. The Pro has 25 hours of battery life and adds the transmit mode. You might not have a choice if you’re buying it at an airport, but if you’re getting it ahead of time, the SE is probably fine for most people. Or go for the Duo if you want to watch something with a partner or a particularly suave stranger.
For most people, the Pro is probably overkill. But if you have a car that you want to add Bluetooth to, or you’re renting a budget or older car, it can be handy. I can’t remember the last time I rented a car without Bluetooth, but it’s a big world out there.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000-mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.
He wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines and a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.