"It's a beautiful day for flying," the captain said, his introductory message piped through my Libratone Track+ headphones. I don't usually hear these messages: I've long since stopped using wired headphones on airplanes, preferring an Apple Music playlist on noise-cancelling earbuds to patchy satellite audio through a set of EarPods.
But this flight was a bit different: I was testing Twelve South's (opens in new tab) new AirFly (opens in new tab), a tiny dongle the size of a small Zippo lighter that adds Bluetooth connectivity to any 3.5mm port. While it can be used to pipe audio from just about anything with a headphone jack, AirFly's chief attraction is connecting modern headphones to outdated technology systems like airplanes and gym equipment. For me, that meant testing it on an aging Air Canada Airbus A320 during a cross-country flight.
It is worth noting that there are similar-looking dongles that have existed on Amazon for years; Trond (opens in new tab) sells a dark-black variation similar in many ways to the AirFly for just $29.99. I haven't tested it yet to compare audio fidelity and overall quality, but I'm planning on picking one up to do a comparison test soon.
The AirFly is a pretty diminutive piece of tech, as dongles go. It's not much bigger in footprint than Apple's SD camera card reader, and only a little thicker. Bottom line: This won't take up any unnecessary space in your carry-on. If you have AirPods, you can even fit your headphone case, the AirFly, and its charging cable in the provided drawstring bag.
Getting your headphones, AirFly, and 3.5mm entry jack to talk to each other is a slightly messier process — largely due to a fairly incomprehensible series of flashing lights the AirFly uses to denote status. With the electronic manual nearby, I figured out pairing pretty quickly, but without that bit of information I may have given up. The trick is knowing what to look for.
How to pair AirFly with your wireless headphones
- Connect the AirFly to the 3.5mm audio source (like an airplane seat rest).
- Press and hold the white button on the front of the AirFly until it begins flashing orange and white repeatedly.
- Pick up your Bluetooth headphones.
- Press and hold the pairing button on your Bluetooth headphones.
- The AirFly should automatically flash twice to indicate a successful pairing between your headphones. (Depending on your model, you may also hear some sort of "connected" chime in your ears.)
Once you've done this song and dance, you should be able to disconnect from the AirFly by briefly holding down on its main button; to reconnect, hold the button until you hear a chime from your headphones. (In rare instances, you may have to re-pair every time, but I've only seen that happen if you use multiple devices with the same headphones.
Sound quality and performance
Once I got my AirFly talking to my wireless headphones, it was an easy road to rocking along to the entertainment system's music and in-flight video system. The sound quality and connectivity level largely depends on the 3.5mm connection — the first flight I took had excellent sound quality through my headphones while watching a movie and listening to satellite radio, but my second flight had a patchy headphone jack, which frequently resulted in the occasional buzz or hum during audio content.
This is less the AirFly's fault than that of an aging in-flight system, but it's important to think about this sort of stuff: If you regularly fly on routes that offer up older planes, or your gym equipment isn't necessarily top-tier, you might run into some audio bugs here and there.
I found the AirFly's 8 hour battery more than sufficient for all of my cross-country journeys — I never ran into a low-battery amber flash during my travels, though I was diligent about charging the dongle in-between flights. Given that many modern planes offer USB recharging at your seat these days, you shouldn't ever have to worry about your dongle (or headphones) completely losing a charge — the AirFly charges in around two hours, but you can always plug it in for a quarter of that time and get enough extra juice to keep your headphones powered and ready.
If you've moved to a wireless lifestyle but still need to access music and audio through wired ports, the $39.99 AirFly is a godsend of a dongle. It's been living in my travel case since I got one, and I've used it multiple times on planes to watch movies, catch the end of a TV broadcast, and even salute the (now-defunct) Virgin America safety video.
Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.
I have audio equipment (and a small TV) with only a 3.5mm jack and I would like to connect to a Bluetooth speaker. Do you think the AirFly would work well for this?
@ Serenity - What headphones are you using for this article? Thanks!
Just tried it out on a flight this week with AirPods. Difficult to pair AirPods and hard to re-pair them back to iPhone and Apple Watch. Too much background noise is a deal-killer for me. When I walk down the street I want to hear background noise for safety reasons, but not on an airplane.
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