How loud is the inside of an airplane?
April 26, 2006 11:56 AM   Subscribe

How loud are the passenger cabins of commercial airplanes?

I suffer from tinnitus and am careful to avoid exposure to noise that could exacerbate my condition. On my most recent flights (on a Boeing 767) I was more aware than usual of the interior noise, which got me thinking about my safety. Colloquially, I know other people get a ringing in their ears after a flight, which suggests a typical airliner operates at a potentially damaging noise level above 85 decibels.

I already arm myself while in flight with Earplanes and/or noise-canceling headphones. What I'd like to know is how effectively I'm combatting the situation. For example, on an Airbus A320--the one airline my googling turned up results for--the interior cabin runs at 86db; this means that yes, it's a damaging, awareness-necessary level, but my earplugs and headphones should give me sufficient protection.

I'm not having much luck finding a listing of this information. Any clues where I might be able to dig it up? And, if you're in the know, should I be worried about airplane interior noise relative to the ringing in my ears?
posted by werty to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You might also want to look into where is the best place in the cabin to sit. For example, (for jets with an engine in the tail) the engine noise in the last row of seats is far louder than towards the front.
posted by winston at 12:16 PM on April 26, 2006

This doesn't directly address your questions, but it helps a great deal to sit forward of the engines. is helpful in this regard.
posted by exogenous at 12:18 PM on April 26, 2006

Well, the Deafness Research Foundation says:
Airline cabin noise varies depending on the type of plane, usually between 95 and 105 decibels. Passengers seated in the back of the plane may experience higher noise levels, and all passengers should be aware that engine noise during take-off could be upward of 115 decibels.
posted by mph at 12:33 PM on April 26, 2006

The atennuation of noise-canceling headphones is not nearly as great as in-ear monitors (IEMs), especially in low and mid-range frequencies. Etymotics makes a good, entry-level pair.
posted by deadfather at 12:43 PM on April 26, 2006

Have you tried in-ear earphones? They block noise much better than any noise-cancelling headphones I've ever used (35-42 db for my Etymotic er-4p), and they block all noise, not just low-level background noise. I wear them everywhere in the airport/airplane unless I need to hear someone speak. Even assuming the background noise level was 100db, they should keep you well-protected.
posted by helios at 12:50 PM on April 26, 2006

The Sony in-ear ones are just as good for noise blocking and way cheaper than the better sounding Etymotics. I have a pair and they are very nice on a plane. Only a dull background roar is left and you can kill that with music.
posted by smackfu at 1:21 PM on April 26, 2006

Radio Shack and other retail outlets sell small handheld Db meters; since we're talking about your ears, the cost of a meter will be far outweighed by the benefits of bringing it wherever you go, including on a plane, to make this determination.
posted by davejay at 2:02 PM on April 26, 2006

Response by poster: Davejay: I'm actually planning on picking up a db meter, although I'm debating the merits of self-induced paranoia.

Re headphones, I still wonder whether the Etymotics and Shures are as noise-killing as they say (no doubts about sound quality). OTC earplugs can only claim a max deduction of 30db, so the headphone manufacturers' 37+ db claims ring a little hollow to me, pun intended.

What I'd still like to do is find a guide, so I know that, say, a Boeing 757 is quieter than an Airbus A320, so I should avoid X airline for Y route, and so on. Seatguru mentions this on some planes, like MD80/83s; the more info I can arm myself with, the better. Any ideas?
posted by werty at 2:14 PM on April 26, 2006

The noise reduction claimed by Etymotic is not NRR. The noise reduction claimed by etymotic is probably average observed, which means that if you wear them properly and use the correct sized foam that fits your ears, you should achieve 35-42 db noise reduction.

NRR is artificially low, due to compensating for all sorts of things, including people who don't wear earplugs properly, people who have ear canals that are too large for the earplugs, etc.) Therefore, a pair of 30 NRR earplugs generally gives you much better protection than 30db.
posted by helios at 3:08 PM on April 26, 2006

A friend of mine measured a Boeing 757 (years ago) as never being below 70db during an entire cross-country flight. I have flown about 50,000 miles with Shure noise-killers in, and I'd say the 30db reduction is conservative, if anything. It's much quieter than the simple noise-cancelling Aiwa headphones that I have. At its loudest, a flight with the Shures in is quieter than Union Square Park is even at 3am. You'll be under more auditory stress walking Charlie.
posted by anildash at 4:31 PM on April 26, 2006

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