Dr. Amar Bose realized that in 1978 aboard a flight from Zurich to Boston. Since 1963, airlines had been delivering in-flight audio entertainment to passengers via pneumatic headphones — tubular headsets that looked like stethoscopes. In the late 1970s, however, they began swapping pneumatic headphones for electronic ones. When Dr. Bose donned his first pair en route to Boston, he was both excited and disappointed. Electronic headphones could deliver superior sound to fliers, but airplane cabins were too noisy to hear it.
Dr. Bose had an audio epiphany: Using basic physics, he conceived of a headset that uses a microphone to detect external noise, and electronics to generate an equal and opposite signal that cancels it out before it reaches the listener’s eardrums. The first pair of noise cancelling headphones were born.
Today, there’s an arsenal of noise cancelling headphones for travel available in all shapes and sizes. And while they can’t cancel the ill-mannered seat kicker behind you or the smell of the fish burrito in row 34, they are perfectly suited for solving four common air-travel problems.
One of the in-flight sounds that inspired Dr. Bose to create noise cancelling headphones to begin with was the perpetual din that fills every airplane cabin. A mix of engine whirring, wind whipping, and air-conditioning humming, it inundates passengers’ ears with a soft but steady stream of white noise that makes it difficult to hear in-flight entertainment, like television and movies. Perhaps that’s why, when you look around a flight these days, noise cancelling headphones seem to be as omnipresent as laptops and coffee cups. Headphones 700 and QuietComfort® 35 wireless headphones II are famous not only for their ability to obliterate cabin noise, but also for producing premium sound. Because both options come with an auxiliary cord, you can plug your headphones into the plane’s entertainment system. Whether you’re in the mood for music, a movie, TV show, or podcast, they’ll all sound clear and vibrant. Best of all, you don’t have to keep the volume cranked uncomfortably loud to appreciate the content. Even if the guy seated next to you is seriously encroaching on your personal space, at least you’re in your own little auditory bubble of bliss. Just be warned, when you finally take off the headphones, you might be a little alarmed to remember just how loud an airplane cabin is!
If you find yourself more intrigued by the wildly popular true wireless in-ear (TWIE) form factor earbuds, Bose QuietComfort® Earbuds should be the first thing you pack. These compact buds are packed with rich, lifelike audio and noise cancelling performance that’s every bit as effective as traditional over-ear headphones. And if your flight is 6 hours or less, a single battery charge should be more than enough to get you to your destination. If you have a longer flight, give the buds a rest in the charging case. A quick 15-minute charge will give the buds another two hours of power. It’s worth mentioning that because planes aren’t currently outfitted with Bluetooth®-enabled entertainment systems, no TWIE earbuds on the market are compatible with in-flight content. So if you want to stream a movie or two, just be sure to download the content to your device before you take off.
And for those of you who insist on noise cancelling earbuds — but refuse to miss out on those in-flight movies — we strongly recommend QuietComfort® 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones. Because these earbuds are hardwired, they’re able to plug right into the headphone jack. The noise cancelling feature runs on battery and will last for up to 16 hours without recharging. And even if the battery dies, the wire still allows you to enjoy whatever you’re listening to.
Travel agency Agoda asked more than 10,000 global travelers what they found to be the most annoying travel habits — the top pet peeve is noisy passengers.
Because you never know if you’ll end up sitting next to Silent Sam or Nattering Nate, make sure to pack those noise cancelling headphones. Putting on a pair gives your neighbors a strong visual cue that you’d rather zone out than make small talk. And if your neighbor chooses to banter with another passenger instead, the only thing you’ll hear is your music, movie, or podcast.
Still, there are some voices you probably shouldn’t tune out. When the pilot or a flight attendant is speaking, for example, you should take note. That’s where having different levels of noise cancellation becomes such a handy feature. With Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and Bose QuietComfort® Earbuds, you have 11 different levels to choose from, including a Conversation Mode that you can use to pause noise cancellation when you need to. Likewise, QuietComfort® 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones have an Aware mode that you can activate with the touch of a button in order to hear what’s happening around you.
Nervous flyer? You’re not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 20 percent of the U.S. population are so afraid of flying that they avoid going on vacation or taking jobs that might require travel. If you have a flying phobia, consider noise cancelling headphones. They do a great job of creating personal pockets of quiet space. They also make your music sound lifelike. This important combination can make noise cancelling headphones a great option for people dealing with stress. According to this 2019 article, music can “cause the heart rate to slow down” and, in the process, lower your breathing rate and level of emotional distress. And in a 2017 study, British neuroscientists likewise found that one particular piece of music can diminish anxiety by up to 65 percent. They also concluded that these 10 stress-busting songs are the most relaxing on Earth; you can listen to all 10 courtesy of a free Spotify® playlist compiled by Inc.com author Melanie Curtin.
When you’re on a plane, you’re constantly aware of the people around you. Cabin announcements. The inflight beverage service. The incessant crinkle of pretzel bags being wrested open. The ding of a seatbelt sign. The guy who keeps getting up to fish for random items in the overhead bin. The window shade that goes up and down. And up and down. You can cocoon yourself in a blanket and hide behind a sleep mask but, if you’re serious about creating your own personal oasis in the air, nothing does the job quite like noise cancelling headphones.
It’s not just about which sounds you cancel out, however. It’s also about what you listen to. The Bose Music app makes it easy to control your music. Tap into the in-flight Wi-Fi® to stream a soothing station from your favorite streaming music service. Or choose a chill playlist from your own music library.
Comfort also is key. QuietComfort® 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones and QuietComfort® Earbuds feature advanced eartip technology that keeps them firmly but gently in place while you unwind. No matter how long your flight is, you can wear them without any discomfort.
If all you care about is masking the din of the cabin so you can fall asleep and stay asleep until you land, Bose Sleepbuds™ II could be the solution. Unlike the other products on this page, they don’t stream music or movies or podcasts. These tiny earbuds just play soothing sounds that lull you to sleep.