Use your AirPods on United flights – sometimes, eventually

You’ll be able to use your AirPods on United flights when using the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system to watch movies and TV shows, or to listen to the provided music. But don’t get too excited just yet …

One of the pains of economy flying is that you can’t use your AirPods or other wireless headphones to watch the in-flight entertainment – unless you bring a Bluetooth adapter, those easily-lost devices that always seem to have flat batteries when you need them.

Being forced to use the crappy headphones provided by the airline is particularly annoying when you have much better ones in your pocket.

That is all set to change when flying United, reports Engadget.

The airline has announced that it’s installing almost 300,000 units of Panasonic Avionics’ Astrova in-flight entertainment (IFE) screens on select new Boeing 787 and Airbus A321XLR aircraft. 

They’re seatback displays that use 4K OLED technology, which promises sharper image quality and better contrast ratio than a lot of other IFE systems. The company says Astrova can also provide high fidelity 3D spatial audio through its latest Bluetooth technology. Yep, you won’t need to use wired headphones anymore or bring one of those Bluetooth dongles just so you could use your wireless earbuds.

Astrova also comes with USB-C ports capable of charging your phones and tablets with 100 watts of DC power. 

Aviation geeks may have already spotted the first potential catch there: Those particular aircraft are only used on United’s international flights. The airline does say, however, that it plans to fit the systems to its domestic fleet too – but likely as a lower priority.

The second catch is that the upgrade will take several years, and won’t even begin until 2025. That’s an unfortunate reality with any airline upgrades: swapping out IFEs is an expensive business, which also takes the aircraft out of service for a time, so these things tend to happen at a rather glacial pace. So you will be able to use your AirPods on United flights, just not any time soon.

Panasonic says that the 100w USB-C charging sockets will also be a game-changer, compared to the ridiculously underpowered trickle-charging ports on most planes.

The USB-C charging connections on Panasonic Avionics’ Astrova provide a guaranteed 67 watts of charging output — enough to fast charge the latest Apple, Dell, HP, and Lenovo laptops. Additionally, depending on the passenger charging usage on board, Astrova can flex to up to 100 watts of power. No other seat-end IFE system can fast-charge laptops.

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