Last updated: 03:45 PM ET, Mon September 12 2016

How to Travel With the New iPhone 7

Travel Technology | Paul Thompson | September 12, 2016

How to Travel With the New iPhone 7

Photo via YouTube

The smartphone is a traveler’s best friend. They've been around in some form for twenty years now, from IBM’s Simon, to the original business workhorse, the Blackberry, to Android devices and the iPhone more recently. It’s the latter — the iPhone — which has just thrown a wrench into the way we travel, by changing the way we entertain ourselves and drown out the rest of the world when we fly.

After being rumored for months, last week’s big iPhone 7 reveal confirmed that the latest model of the phone will not come with the industry-standard 3.5mm headphone jack any longer. And by industry standard, I don’t only mean standard to every audio device and smartphone, but also the airline industry standard. Every airline with seat-back entertainment uses this type of connection — unless you’re up front and you borrow some high-priced Bose QC-25s — those have a special three-pronged adapter that only works on the plane, to prevent theft.

Many passengers these days carry their headphones or earbuds with them when they travel. People invest money into absorbing their favorite entertainment in a way that sounds best, or at the least, in an inexpensive way.

Thankfully, there’s an easy (but annoying) workaround for iPhone 7 users. The phone will come pre-packaged with wired “Ear Pod” earbuds that will now plug into the phone’s Lightning charging port. Also in the box will be a Lightning to 3.5mm adapter. So that is what you’ll have to use if you want to fly with your Apple-supplied Ear Pods that came with your new iPhone 7.

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Personally, I’ve never liked Apple’s Ear Pods, because I find their hard plastic design to be uncomfortable to my ears. I often opt to leave those in the box in which they were shipped, and then I’ll wear a more comfortable set of rubber earbuds produced by someone else, which fit more comfortably and snugly into my ears.

Airlines do have a few possible ways of helping iPhone 7 users make an easy transition while traveling. After all, as the years go on, the number of these devices will only multiply. First, they could work with inflight entertainment (IFE) equipment companies to add a lightning port on seat-back IFE, but this would be the most expensive and in my opinion, least likely outcome. The could ask Apple to chip in and cover at least some of the cost, but I see that as unlikely as well. This option would take years to design, certify, and refit onto airline cabins.

Every smartphone has Bluetooth capability, and Bluetooth headsets are becoming more popular and less expensive. This would be another good option, but would also require a certification process with the FAA, to make sure there is no interference with communication equipment on the flight deck.

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Finally, airlines could choose to apply what I view as the most likely and cheapest option, which is to do as little as possible. Leave it up to the passenger to bring their own adapter, or let passengers borrow or rent one. 

As a traveler with an insight into the industry and its equipment manufacturers, I don’t predict the industry will concede to Apple and adapt their equipment in response. After all, the iPhone market share is less than fifteen percent worldwide, which is a good chunk, but not enough to force such a major change. 


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