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Noise-cancelling headphones FTW (for the win)!

I’m on a plane as I type this, tens of thousands of feet above land. I see farms and rolling hills below us, the palette mostly shades of brown, as spring has officially begun but has yet to make its mark on the northeast.

To tell you the truth, I took out my laptop to work on a photography project for an hour or so—plane trips are, for me, a blissful time to unplug, a short hour or three where no one can reach me by phone or email or any social media platforms. I put in my inexpensive iPhone earbuds at first, thinking I’d listen to some music as I worked on my photography. But then I remembered: I had my noise-cancelling headphones on this trip, and I’d never used them while on a plane. I thought I’d try those instead.

Let me rewind for a second. Typically I am very careful when I choose my airplane seats. I usually fly Delta, and they allow you to pick seats when you book. I stubbornly refuse to pay extra for the few extra inches of legroom they now advertise—though I am about 6’ tall and have very long legs, I object on principle. (I’m stubborn, I know.) I do pay attention to a few other things, though. My first preference is to sit by the window, though an aisle seat will do—god forbid I end up in the middle of a three-seat section or, even worse, the center of the middle row on a jumbo jet on an international flight. I look at the seating chart, noting where the wings are, making sure I don’t choose a seat that will prevent me from gazing at the landscape below.

This time around, I picked good ol’ seat 31E for my departing and returning flights. A dear friend is sitting next to me, so I can get all in her personal space to look out the window if I feel so compelled.

What I didn’t realize was just how close the jet engines were to my seat. The constant noise reminds me of what it might be like to be a miniature person encountering a household vacuum: constant, consistent noise. Add to that distraction the oft-unintelligible but very loud announcements made by the captain and flight attendants, and you have a migraine patient’s recipe for frustration.

Back to this post. Why in the world am I writing an article when my intent was to take out my laptop to work on my photography project?

I’ll tell you why: I flipped on the noise-cancelling switch on the headphones and the engine noise was reduced by so many decibels. It now sounds almost like an ongoing, gentle ocean wave instead of a mind-numbing hum. Instead of opening my photo editing software, I opened a new word processing document to tell you about these headphones.

There are many kinds of noise-cancelling headphones on the market. For years I had my eyes on a Bose model, but I could never summon the guts to dish out the money for a nice set. Though I know this is a health-related thing for me and being able to reduce noise can prevent migraine attacks, I have a hard time spending when the bill exceeds $100 or even $50. In the end, I bought a different brand (A-Audio) when I saw that a certain model was discounted a whopping 77% off at a website I order from for work. I haven’t been using them often, but this experience on the plane may have made me a convert: I won’t be taking more trips without them!

During a migraine attack, the headband part of the headset, though very cushy, aggravates my head a bit, and I don’t like that I can’t comfortably lie on my side with them. Other than that, I am pleased with my purchase.

Do you have any noise-cancelling headphones? What do you like or dislike about them? Do you use them during a migraine attack, when you’re feeling good, or both?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • lightweaver
    2 years ago

    I need to do this. Great idea

  • Candy Meacham
    3 years ago

    I’m really glad the noise cancelling headphones worked for you, but they were a disaster for me. My husband gave me Bose headphones for Christmas 3 or 4 years ago. I tried them out on a vacation flight to Mexico, and before the end of the flight they brought on a migraine that lasted for 2 days and did not respond to abortives. I could feel the discomfort not long after I put them on. My son, who also has migraines, had a similar experience. Also a friend of mine. Please let people know that noise cancelling headphones can be a trigger for some people. I sold mine on Craigslist as soon as we got home.

  • VirginiaDreaming
    3 years ago

    I have a set of Phaeton in the ear noise canceling headphones. They have short wires to connecting the ear buds to a case that you either clip to your top or hang around your neck like a locket. The noise suppression and battery life are pretty good and since they are Bluetooth you can pair them with your phone, tablet or computer. I generally use them to listen to audiobooks or podcasts when I am feeling well or piano music well I am hurting. (For some reason listening to solo piano music relaxes me and makes the pain less aversive.)
    The only way I can stand to drive our car for long is by using the ear buds. Sometimes when I am doing household chores I will also put a pair of passive sound blocking earphones over top of them And since they are ear buds, when I need to really up their effectiveness, It feels pretty dorky, but I can run a vacuum cleaner or use power tools without triggering a migraine that way.

  • BethBlue
    3 years ago

    I’ve been in the market for these for a few months, and I welcome suggestions. Headphones are the key to surviving the horrors of flight in 2017!

  • texotexere
    3 years ago

    I have the Bose QuietComfort20i- the ear bud version that works with iPhone- and I love them. Expensive ($250), but they are a necessity for commuting on public transit in the city. I use them both to prevent an attack (noise is a trigger) and during. I opted for this version because I can’t tolerate traditional headsets pressing on my head. They work really well for constant noises and lower ones, not so well for things like a baby crying, but that it typical for noise-cancelling sets and it does better than others that I’ve tried.

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