Can I Use Bluetooth Headphones on a Plane?
There is no simple answer to this question and there is much confusion around the use of all electronic equipment, including Bluetooth headphones on airlines. It does not help that the rules seem to change regularly. There is also no consistency so what is allowed depends largely on where you are traveling and the specific airline.
Much of the detailed information released by the FAA, our authorities and the airlines themselves, is outdated so it is difficult to be sure of exactly where you stand. The general rule is that all Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs), including Bluetooth headphones, are switched off and put away during takeoff and landing. They are then permitted during flight provided they are in flight mode.
For some time now, many airlines have implements an electronics ban whereby all devices larger than a smartphone are prohibited and need to be gate checked before traveling to the US. This applies mostly to flights from certain African and Middle Eastern countries but again, the rules are not consistent.
The US imposed these size limits and many other airlines adopted the same policy. Although the ruling appeared pretty clear at first, it soon caused considerable confusion with many non-offending devices not being allowed. The size ban also affected larger headphones, specifically the around or over-the-ear noise-canceling headphones. These are particularly useful on flights to enjoy your content of choice without any disturbance from those around you. We have all be stuck in a seat near a crying baby or a hardcore snorer. That makes for a long and painful flight.
Looking at recent forums online shows that there is major inconsistency and much confusion. Emirates, for example, do not allow Bluetooth headphones on board flights affected by the recent electronics ban. BA, on the other hand, allows short-range Bluetooth devices except during takeoff and landing.
The best advice is that if you are planning a flight soon and your Bluetooth earphones are important to you, check with the airline first. Hopefully you get a straight answer. To be safe, it would be wise to go for one of the more compact models available.
This confusion does not apply to flights in and out of the US only. If anything, there is more confusion in many other parts of the world. Many travelers have commented on getting different reactions to the use of Bluetooth headphone on each airline they use as well as different rules at different times from the same airline.
Despite regulations from the FCC and FAA as well as the individual airline regulations, there appears to be quite a bit of inconsistency. Many airlines the expressly forbid the use of Bluetooth headphones tend to turn a blind eye to their use. The problem is, you never know when this will happen. Other airlines are ultra-strict and have a zero-tolerance policy. Some even go so far as to ban non-Bluetooth, wired headphones even though most airlines supply these themselves.
One of the frustrations is that many of the better Bluetooth headphones also have cables that can be connected to the in-flight entertainment system. Used like this, they do not use Bluetooth and provide an infinitely better experience the cheap, throwaway earphones provided by the airlines. If you have invested in quality headphones then you are used to the superb quality and spending hours with a cheap and nasty set of headphones will be a frustrating painful experience.
A large part of the problem is a kneejerk reaction to recent security issues and the intentions of the airlines are good. The situation is made worse by the lack of knowledge and understanding of airline staff as to what is safe and what is not. Definitive studies need to be done and clear policies need to be established and well communicated. Airline staff then need to be well educated regarding the safety and functioning of the various devices. With time, hopefully, the situation will improve.
The bottom line is, sometimes you can happily use Bluetooth headsets and sometimes you can’t. On some occasions, any Bluetooth headphone is allowed while other times it must be a compact model. There is no consistency. To be safe, invest in a reasonable pair of wired earbuds, especially if you fly regularly.