A solution to one of the most annoying aspects of long flights
Image: United
United Airlines is adding a long-awaited feature to the in-flight entertainment seatback screens of its new Boeing 737 Max 8 jets support for Bluetooth headphones. The company is making the upgrade as part of United Next, a new plan to expand and modernize its fleet with what it says are larger, fuel-efficient jets and a more comfortable in-flight experience.
I havent flown in the last two years for reasons that are hopefully obvious but the thing that grinds most of my past flying experience to a halt is dealing with the bizarre two-pronged audio jacks airplanes use for inflight audio. Having headphones with a 3.5mm audio jack isnt hard, but it doesnt reflect the Bluetooth audio lifestyle, Apple, and plenty of other tech companies have slowly forced me to adopt. I dont like the wireless audio freak Ive become, but it happened, which makes Uniteds upgrades so exciting, as demoed in the tweets below from aviation writer Jason Rabinowitz.
Adding seatback screens made a huge difference in how tolerable flying is, but its been held up by lagging audio support that The Verge has even written a guide to getting around. And this isnt a problem unique to United. Other airlines like Delta or JetBlue have been offering seatback screens for years, but have also saddled flyers with analog audio. United just might be one of the first airlines to start the next wave of inflight entertainment improvements (hopefully).
However, theres room for things to go a bit sideways. As part of its upgrades, Uniteds new 737 Max 8 jets offer 10 or 13-inch inflight entertainment screens on the backs of all seats, which might mean a lot of people trying to connect to Bluetooth at once. That could cause interference, and might also make the process of connecting your headphones more of a chore if youre having to hunt through multiple devices trying to pair in the same menu. United currently only offers Bluetooth on its Max 8 jets which it says should start flying this summer. The company didnt share how it plans to address issues with Bluetooth, but said its still studying the technology.
I cant rightfully claim that Bluetooth is as meaningful a change as more legroom or safer flights, but for an airline industry hoarding cash to make it through the pandemic and looking to entice frequent flyers to earn their miles again, any snazzy new feature cant hurt.