The 8 best noise-cancelling headphones for flying in 2024 from Mashable

Best noise-cancelling headphones for flying:
Best for comfort

Bose QuietComfort 45
$329 at Best Buy
Budget pick
Best sound quality

Sony WH-1000XM5
$398 at Amazon
Best for Apple loyalists

Apple AirPods Max
$549 at Amazon
Best for adjustable ANC

Bose 700 headphones
$379 at Best Buy
Best earbuds for travel

Apple AirPods Pro
$249 at Amazon

Flying was never the most stress-free way to travel, but thanks to never-ending airline delays, unruly passengers, and the incredible shrinking airline seat, it’s become a nightmare. If you’ve decided it’s finally time to invest in a quality pair of noise-cancelling headphones for flying, we’ve got you covered.

The good news is that plenty of headphones, from over-ear headphones to wireless earbuds, offer active noise cancellation. And in 2024, it’s not too hard to find ANC headphones cost under $100.

Even so, if you want to find the best noise-cancelling headphones for airplanes, you should be prepared to pay closer $200 to $500 (exempting our budget pick from Anker Soundcore). Premium headphones offer improved active noise cancellation and transparency modes that allow you to hear those all-important gate announcements.

Let’s not forget that ANC on its own won’t save the day — otherwise, we’d just direct you to our review of the best noise-cancelling headphones. For long flights, comfort is also key. It won’t matter if your headphones block sound if you only want to wear them for two out of five hours of your flight. A few extra features — like balanced sound and spatial audio — can’t hurt either.

With all that in mind, we’ve rounded up the best headphones for flying based on our extensive research and hands-on testing.

Because shopping for headphones shouldn’t be as stressful as heading to the airport, we’ve answered every question you need to know before purchasing. Read on for essential info as well as the very best noise-cancelling headphones for flying in 2024.

Does paying more really get me more noise cancellation?

Generally, yes. Many cheap headphones claim to offer “noise-cancelling” features, but a $50 pair of over-ear headphones will never compare to Sony noise-cancelling headphones. Typically, the more you pay and the better known and regarded the brand is, the better the noise cancellation. Brands like Bose and Sony offer multiple levels of noise cancellation so you can choose to be completely blocked off from the world or opt to allow some environmental noises to come in while flying. 

Paying more can also get you some nice features to supplement your ANC, like voice assistant support, expansive battery life, advanced codec support for better-sounding music, or better call quality. If you’re a frequent flyer, the cost is almost certainly worth it.

What are the best noise-cancelling headphones for flying?

Noise-cancelling headphones are at their most useful on airplanes. While flying, it’s difficult to find a moment’s peace when so much is going on around you. Frequent flyers may prefer to rest or work, and the best way to do this is by using the best noise-cancellation methods to block out the chaos. 

With that in mind, some headphones’ ANC works best on blocking out people talking more than ambient engine sounds, and vice versa, and people will have different preference levels for how much ANC they actually like. In addition, for long-haul flights, you may also be interested in the best noise-cancelling headphones for sleeping

With all that in mind, we’ve included the best ANC headphones for every traveler. So, read on to find the best noise-cancelling headphones for airplanes in 2024 — all based on Mashable’s in-depth research and hands-on headphones reviews.

Best overall: Bose QuietComfort Ultra

Credit: Bethany Allard / Mashable

Who it’s for:

If you’re looking for over-ear headphones that sound great and can give you all day wear, making the hefty investment in the Bose QuietComfort Ultras may well be worth it. While we tested these headphones over a period of a couple weeks, we were especially impressed when we wore for the entirety of a five hour flight (and about an hour before getting on the plane), while also wearing glasses — never once did we feel the need to take them off.

Why we picked this:

Shopping Reporter Bethany Allard here. Personally, I’ve owned and used Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs for several years, and tested the QC 45s for a couple months before testing these. Between the former two, I can’t say I noticed a huge difference in quality — both are excellent. But, with the Ultra’s, I feel like Bose really stepped up the QuietComfort line. They feel durable, but just as comfortable. The sound profile feels richer, and the immersion mode allows for a spatial audio experience that amps up the experience.

And then, of course, there’s the ANC. I work from home and live about 50 feet across the street from a massive construction project, so some form of ANC is a necessity to me. The Ultras block out the sound better than the other two QuietComfort models. As mentioned above, I took them on a plane ride, and was impressed at how comfortable they stayed and how well they blocked out the sound of the airplane and fellow passengers. As for portability, the hinge on the earcups allows them to fold flat and in, so they fold up smaller than other headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM5s can.

With all that said, they’re not perfect. For starters, the battery life could be better. The stand-by mode doesn’t work the most consistently either, and similar to past QC headphones I’ve tried, connecting to multiple devices can occasionally take a few tries upon power up. These issues are annoying, but manageable enough to troubleshoot, and worth dealing with for the comfort and noise-cancelling power these headphones offer.

One Ziff Davis staffer mentioned that after about a month of usage, the power button on his headphones stopped working. We haven’t been able to find any more reports of this online, but it’s definitely concerning. It’s good to know that Bose offers a one-year product warranty.

Battery life: 24 hours | Bluetooth range: 30 feet | App-connected: Yes

Best for comfort: Bose QuietComfort 45

Credit: Haley Henschel / Mashable

Who it’s for:

The Bose QuietComfort line has earned its spot as one of the most popular headphones for travelers thanks to incredible comfort, and the QuietComfort 45s are no exception.

During our testing, we wore the QC 45s for eight-plus hours, some days with glasses, and never once did we experience unpleasant squeezing or feel the weight of these headphones. Mashable Lead Shopping Reporter Haley Henschel said that prior to having the Bose QC 45s, most name-brand models made her head ache after just minutes of wear, but she can wear the Bose headphones all day without an issue. For comfort-first folks, these are your headphones. They are being phased out for newer models (see our pick right above this one), but while they’re still around, you can typically find them on sale.

Why we picked this:

Though you can’t fine-tune the ANC as you can with the Bose 700s, the active noise cancellation on these headphones still does a more than adequate job for your flight, managing to block out higher-frequency sounds that most ANC-enabled headphones typically struggle with. A single press of the button on the left ear cup allows you to easily switch between quiet and aware modes when the flight attendant comes around to take your drink order.

Up to 24 hours of battery life is not stellar but not bad either. For one, it’s the same battery life as the more expensive QC Ultras, and you can always plug them in for 15 minutes to get back three hours of charge for when you’re on the move or taking a short flight. As for the Bluetooth connection, it can be a bit spotty when switching among devices (especially if two are connected at the same time), but the Bose app helps smooth out the process — plus, we’re willing to bet you won’t be switching between too many devices on a flight.

Battery life: 24 hours | Bluetooth range: 30 feet | App-connected: Yes

Budget pick: Anker Soundcore Life Q20

Who it’s for:

While having active noise cancellation at the ready while traveling might sound great, spending hundreds of dollars for it might sound decidedly less so. If you’re not looking for the most top-quality ANC, sound, or build out there, the Anker Soundcore Life Q20s are one of the best entry-level picks that don’t break the bank.

Why we picked this:

Though basically a fifth of the price of our top picks for over-ear headphones with ANC, the Life Q20s wear comfortably and their sound comes through strong and well-balanced. Their design isn’t anything to brag about, but the ear cups do fold in and up, so storing them isn’t a huge pain. Just make sure to grab your own case if you don’t want them floating freely in your bag. Thankfully they’re lightweight, but they do suffer from feeling cheaper as a result.

The middling ANC means that it can block out some background noise, but especially high or low-frequency sounds are likely to break through. The battery life, however, is anything but middling, offering 40 hours of playtime, more than enough for long flights (and inevitable delays at the gate). Overall, these headphones epitomize the word decent — but that’s not a knock against them at all.

Battery life: 40 hours | Bluetooth range: 33 feet | App-connected: Yes

Best sound quality: Sony WH-1000XM5

Credit: Molly Flores / Mashable

Read Mashable’s full review of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones.

Who it’s for:

Sony’s latest and greatest over-ear noise-cancelling headphones are the WH-1000XM5. Though they’re not an essential upgrade for those who already own the ultra-popular WH-1000XM4s, the improved noise cancellation and fuller sound make these the stronger pick for airplane travel in 2024.

While the ANC is solid, it’s not a standout among other high-end noise-cancelling headphones. However, they still pack impressive noise cancellation and stellar audio quality for music. Considering noise cancellation is most effective in tandem with music, these headphones should appeal to music lovers and audiophiles. In her review of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones, Mashable’s Deputy Reviews Editor Miller Kern said the XM5s were “probably the best-sounding headphones I’ve ever tried,” making them a great pick for folks who take pride in their Spotify playlists.

Why we picked this:

Besides sounding amazing, they offer exceptional travel functionality with the “quick attention” mode, activated simply by covering your right ear cup, allowing you to hear gate change announcements and flight attendants without completely stopping your music. Voice assistant support, crisp call quality, and a great battery life of up to 30 hours complete the package.

Though they look great, the biggest drawback is that these headphones don’t fold up, and the carrying case is quite tall, though slim. Still, if sound quality is more important than portability, they’re not that much bulkier than other headphones on this list (and they are more travel-friendly than the AirPods Max).

Battery life: 30 hours | Bluetooth range: 33 feet | App-connected: Yes

Best for Apple loyalists: Apple AirPods Max

Credit: Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

Read Mashable’s full review of the Apple AirPods Max.

Who it’s for:

These headphones are expensive as all hell, but for those deep in the Apple ecosystem who want a pair of over-the-ear headphones, they could very well be worth the price. Plus, the noise cancelling is pretty great. You can’t find these headphones on sale these days (there is rumor that they might get an upgrade this year), so anyone who’s not already a diehard Apple fan will probably want to skip these.

Why we picked this:

The AirPods Max aren’t just a pretty pair of headphones. With the help of eight microphones, these headphones provide excellent active noise cancellation. Switching into transparency mode happens with the push of a button, so there’s no messing with finicky touch controls to hear what’s going on around you. In addition to ANC, they have fantastic sound quality, and support for spatial audio will make cinephiles happy.

Their battery life, however, is a bit lacking compared to similarly priced headphones, thanks to the fact that they have no power button. (They’re also missing a headphone jack, for those who like the option of wired listening). They will go into a low-power mode, but you can never completely turn them off. However, this does allow for easy switching in between devices, and for the “Find My” feature to always work. Plus, 20 hours of battery isn’t bad, as that should last for even the most long-haul flights. In a pinch, five minutes of a charge can get you an hour and a half of battery life.

The carrying case is unfortunately, as former Mashable Tech Reporter Brenda Stoylar wrote in her review, “possibly the dumbest thing Apple has ever designed,” so these headphones are probably best for people who don’t mind wearing them around their neck for the entirety of their trip.

Battery life: 20 hours | Bluetooth range: Up to 300 feet | App-connected: Yes

Best for adjustable ANC: Bose 700

Credit: Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

Read Mashable’s full review of the Bose Noise Canceling 700 headphones.

Who it’s for:

The Bose 700s are truly top-of-the-line headphones for active noise cancellation, which makes them one of the best noice-cancelling headphones for flying in 2024. Frequent flyers don’t want to be reminded that they’re surrounded by a bunch of stressed-out strangers, and these premium over-ear headphones will get the job done.

Why we picked this:

They offer 10 levels of ANC so you can finely tune your experience, blocking out as much or as little as you want. You can create up to three different presets between 0 and 10, so you won’t have to filter through all ten options every time you want to change the settings. This level of customization is not common among headphones, really setting the Bose 700s apart from its competitors. Alongside that, they sound great, with bass strong and mids suitably crisp, delivering the audio quality you’d expect from Bose.

In his review, Mashable’s Alex Perry noted how comfortable the rubber padding on the headband and the foam ear cups were, even when worn for long periods. He also said these headphones are great at blocking out background sounds while on calls, which makes them especially ideal for frequent travelers who often find themselves on the phone while waiting in noisy airport terminals. To top it all off, they fold flat and come with a zip-up case for safe transport. A downside of these headphones is the battery life, which like the AirPod Max, maxes out at 20 hours. However, the biggest downside is that like the QC 45s, these headphones are also being phased out of Bose’s line, so they can be harder to find and aren’t likely to be restocked.

Battery life: 20 hours | Bluetooth range: Up to 33 feet | App-connected: Yes

Best earbuds for travel: Apple AirPods Pro

Read Mashable’s full review of the Apple AirPod Pros.

Who it’s for:

If you prefer something more lowkey than a bulky pair of over-the-ear wireless headphones, a pair of earbuds for travel instead. Though this usually means noise cancelling takes a big hit, that’s not the case with the second-gen Apple AirPods Pro. Mashable Tech Reporter Stan Schroeder deemed these, “the first pair of earbuds I’d actually consider taking on an airplane,” due to the quality of their ANC.

Why we picked this:

The ANC ante has been upped with the latest Pros, which offer even more sound-blocking power than the already great first-generation model. The design remains essentially the same, so you can easily stow the charging case in your bag or pocket. Plus, with last year’s upgrade, the USB-C charging port likely means you have to lug around one less cable. Adaptive transparency mode allows you to hear outside noise once more with a press of the stem, while still dampening unwanted noise. To add to the aural experience, these buds do have spatial audio, though that feature is infamous for working great with some songs and not working at all with others.

Plus, the easy pairing AirPods are known for being even more efficient thanks to the upgraded H2 chip found in these earbuds. The especially great thing about AirPods is that though they’re expensive, they do go on sale regularly throughout the year.

Battery life: 6 hours (up to 30 hours with charging case) | Bluetooth range: Up to 60 feet | App-connected: Yes

How we tested for the best noise cancelling headphones for flying

Six out of seven of these headphones have been hands-on tested by Mashable staff, including past and current tech reporters, senior tech editors, and our deputy reviews editor.

The remaining pair, the Anker Soundcore Life Q20, were selected after extensive research into specs and customer reviews. In addition to premium headphones from Sony, Bose, and Apple, we also wanted to include some of the best budget noise-cancelling headphones for airplanes. We selected these headphones based on our research and the reliability of Anker. We’ll be hands-on testing this model for a future update.

We added the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones to our list of recommendations in Nov. 2023, and as of Feb. 2024, tested the Bose QuietComfort Ultra earbuds and the JBL Tour One M2 headphones. The Bose QuietComfort Ultra earbuds will be added to this roundup in a future update. At this time, the JBL headphones didn’t make the cut. We liked their long battery life, comfort, and surprisingly functional multipoint pairing, but we didn’t feel like their $300 price tag matched up to the quality of the active noise cancellation. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t wow us, and if you’re willing to spend that much, we’d recommend going with Bose instead.

All of these headphones were chosen with the following criteria in mind:

Comfort: As we mentioned above, the quiet of active noise cancellation becomes much less enjoyable if the headphones delivering it squeeze your head for the entirety of your flight. Any headphones that weren’t favored for long-term wear didn’t make our list.

Battery life: If your headphones’ battery is going to die 30 minutes into your flight, they’re not going to cut it for even the shortest of trips. Our picks were typically in a higher price range that have better battery life and quick charge options for the times when you forget to juice up your headphones the night before you leave.

Active noise cancellation quality: There are lower cost options for ANC, but not all active noise cancellation is delivered the same. That’s why we focused on picks that either offered multiple levels of ANC, or delivered a strong level of ANC on its own, that didn’t require music to make a noticeable difference.

Portability: Over-the-ear headphones are going to deliver the best noise cancellation possible, but they are bulky. To keep these picks travel-friendly, we looked for headphones that fold up or that come with sleek carrying cases.

Durability: Taking your headphones with you through TSA lines just opens them up to more wear and tear, so we went for higher-cost picks that are likely to survive the journey. Plus, we made sure to choose headphones that will last you for years, so the upfront investment is worth it.

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