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I will soon be traveling transatlantic on a British Airways 747. I was hoping to use my over-the-ear headphones with their armrest entertainment system rather than the earbuds they provide. Does anyone know if this is possible? My concern is that their armrests have nonstandard sockets that regular headphone plugs will not work with. I'm flying in economy class, if that makes a difference. Thanks.

Update: Read my answer below for my recent flight experiences.

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Not sure about BA but I was able to use it on a Virgin America flight. – Karlson Mar 21 '13 at 17:38
up vote 8 down vote accepted

British Airways uses a standard 3.5mm port in all classes; you should be fine to bring your own headphones. [edit] However, I always include in my travel electronics kit an airline headphone adapter, which allows you to use your headphones' single 3.5mm stereo jack with the double 3.5mm mono ports found on some equipment, including older BA aircraft.

2-prong mono to stereo airline headphone adapter

In premium cabins, you may notice a smaller second outlet, and that the provided headphones have two-prong jacks. This second port is not an audio output, but a power supply for the noise cancellation system in the provided headphones. You do not need a one-prong to two-prong adapter here, and you should not attempt to plug any third party accessories into this outlet.

In fact, I'm not aware of any major carrier which has proprietary audio jacks in this day and age. You'll find 3.5mm outlets in single stereo or split mono varieties pretty much anywhere you can get electronic in-flight audio.

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If memory serves, many the BA 747s, and some of their other planes use the two pin "Aircaft Headphone" standard in economy and premium economy. (Not sure what the official name is for that). The left and right channels are carried by different 3.5mm mono connectors. You can buy an adapter for a trivial amount of money, which'll convert from twin 3.5mm mono into regular 3.5mm stereo, so you can use your normal headphones. I always carry one with me, as you often need it! I'm pretty sure some of their planes have regular 3.5mm stereo in economy / premium economy.

In Business on BA 747s, there are two sockets, but they're different. One is a normal 3.5mm stereo connection, the other is slightly narrower (2.5mm?) and seems to be used to feed the noise cancelling headphones they lend you. I've not had any problems with plugging my own headphones in. Not sure about first, I've never been lucky enough to fly at the pointy end...

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I thought the 2-prong mono was done away in the 2010 seat replacement program? Or is that only for WT on the 777s? – choster Mar 21 '13 at 18:09
I'm pretty sure I had to use my adapter on my last 747 flight, but I have a feeling I didn't need it last autumn on a 777. I find it's generally safest to carry an adapter whenever I fly, then you're covered even if there's an unexpected equipment change! – Gagravarr Mar 21 '13 at 20:36

While flying in early April 2013, in my economy class seat I found a standard 3.5mm jack. It was a little loose (not surprising), but it worked with my personal over-the-ear headphones. Of the eight video monitors my family sat in front of traveling to London and back, one could not play movies (extremely choppy video) but its map and audio were fine, and another did not retract all the way so small people could not see its screen because the viewing angle was too oblique. The staff was super helpful, however, restarting the monitor with the choppy video when notified (alas, in vain).

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If your IFE was broken, contact customer services and they should give you some avios in compensation - broken IFE forms filled out onboard don't always work, but contacting customer services should, as this FT thread covers – Gagravarr Apr 16 '13 at 19:57

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