Why You May Want To Avoid This Popular Pastime When Waiting For Your Flight

Airports are notoriously loud places. According to a National Academies study, the ambient noise inside a U.S. airport terminal averages 62 decibels (like an air conditioner) — and that's without the PA system on. For the PA announcements to be intelligible at all, they need to be a minimum of 72 to 78 decibels. Amid all the noise, many of us turn to our trusty headphones to drown out our surroundings and tune into our favorite music. But as harmonious as that sounds, listening to music at an airport, especially when waiting for your flight, might not be the wisest choice.

The most obvious reason is missing vital announcements. While listening to Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" with noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones as you wait for your plane, there's a chance you could miss crucial boarding calls or changes in gate information. Although generic airport loudspeaker announcements happen every five minutes, airlines make essential and specific flight-related announcements only a handful of times. If you aren't paying attention, you can easily miss them. Imagine the frustration and financial implications of having to rebook your trip just because you didn't hear your flight or name being called.

Music not only blocks out announcements but can also make you less aware of your surroundings. Thieves are opportunistic. If they notice someone fully engrossed in their music, eyes closed, oblivious to their environment, they might take it as an open invitation to snatch away belongings. Staying fully alert, especially in crowded places like airports, is always recommended.

Tune in to the sounds of the airport

Although listening to music can help you have a more relaxing time at the airport, the combination of the inherent stress of travel and the constant need to be alert for announcements can make your listening experience quite unpleasant. Continuously adjusting the volume or taking an earbud out to listen for an important message over the loudspeaker can add to your stress levels rather than reduce them. Now, this doesn't mean you should entirely avoid music. Instead, consider reading, people-watching, duty-free shopping, or simply relaxing — all equally enjoyable and much safer. If you must listen to music, consider using just one earbud. This way, you can still hear announcements and be aware of your surroundings. 

Some airports around the world are making strides towards becoming 'silent airports.' Singapore's Changi, Dubai International in UAE, and Schiphol in the Netherlands, among others, are all airports with reduced noise, fewer announcements, and gate-specific or emergency communication only. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has joined these silent ranks and hopes to reduce its noise levels by 40%. As airports worldwide become increasingly quieter, it's even more essential to be sonically aware — especially because important flight announcements are even less frequent in these newly 'silent' spaces. Listening to music is a popular pastime, but unfortunately, airports might not be the ideal place for it. Next time you're waiting for your flight, it might be worthwhile to keep the headphones off and stay tuned in.