Apple’s cheapest accessory helped me get through a 13-hour flight — this is a life saver

Apple's USB-C to 3.5mm headphone jack in front of a seat-back display on a plane
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Some people travel light but I’ve never been one of them. Over the years though, I’ve significantly cut down when it comes to what I pack in my checked bag but with my carry-on, it’s obviously filled to the brim with tech.

During my recent trip to Taiwan for Computex, I brought a kitchen sink’s worth of gadgets. Of course I had my trusty ThinkPad but to be able to quickly get to work when I got back to the hotel after perusing the show floor, I also brought one of the best mini PCs and even a dual-screen portable monitor so that I could feel like I was working at my multi-monitor setup back home.

For the flight itself, I had my Nintendo Switch to help kill time and since I’m a YouTube Premium subscriber, I downloaded plenty of videos to watch on my smartphone and a few of my favorite albums from YouTube Music.

While I thought I had everything I needed to make it through the 13-hour trip from Seattle to Taipei, during my first flight from Houston, I noticed I had made a grave mistake. Fortunately though, I was able to find a workaround during my layover and I owe that to a company whose products I don’t even use.

Apple USB-C to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter: $9.99 @ Amazon

Apple USB-C to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter: $9.99 @ Amazon
This inexpensive adapter will let you use wired headphones with the iPhone 15 or the latest iPads. Besides Apple products, it works with many other phones, tablets and even laptops that don’t ship with a headphone jack.

A lucky layover

Airport Wi-Fi

(Image credit: JESHOOTS.com/Unsplash)

Normally, it’s better to have a direct flight without any stops in between but in this case, having a layover before the bulk of my journey really paid off.

It takes about four hours to get from Houston to Seattle by plane, so I didn’t intend on sleeping during that neck of the trip. Instead, I took out my Nintendo Switch and started playing away with a pair of wired headphones and the CRKD Neo S controller. As Luigi’s Mansion is a darker game after all though, I started getting sleepy.

If I’m sleeping on a plane, I usually listen to an album I’ve heard thousands of times before to drown out all of the background noise around me. To this end, I packed a pair of wireless earbuds to use during my trip. However, as I now work from home and drive everywhere instead of taking the subway or the bus — I do live in Texas after all — they weren’t charged fully. I had given them a bit of time on the charger before I left but I guess it wasn’t enough. 

By the time I realized I wouldn’t be listening to music on this flight after all, we had landed in Seattle. Since I had a bit of time before my even longer flight to Taipei, I headed for my favorite place in the airport: the electronics store.

I thought about buying a new pair of wireless headphones but then stopped myself as they wouldn’t be charged enough to work either. At that point, I decided to look for something I’ve always wanted: wired headphones with a USB-C connection instead of a 3.5mm one. The shop I was at didn’t have any and just when I had almost given up hope, I saw that they had USB-C to 3.5mm headphone jack adapters. These would work with the wired headphones I brought to play with my Switch but there were two options to choose from.

The store I was at had a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter from Brookstone and one from Apple. Since I use one of the best Android phones, going with the one from Apple didn’t cross my mind until I looked at their prices. While the one from Brookstone would cost me $30, Apple’s was just $15. Then I did something I haven’t done since 2001: I bought an Apple product.

On my next flight, I unboxed the adapter and plugged one end into my Nothing Phone 2 and the other into my wired headphones. Everything worked as it should and I was able to sleep through a large part of my 13-hour flight without any interruptions.

A great last-minute purchase

JBL's Tune 310C USB-C headphones in hand before boarding a flight

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

After a week of exploring Taiwan and seeing all of the cool new gadgets at Computex, it was time to head back home. Apple’s USB-C to 3.5mm adapter did a great job getting me through my last flight and originally, I was planning to use it again on my non-stop flight to Houston.

However, right before my plane started boarding, I noticed there was another electronics store next to my gate. Out of curiosity, I popped in to see what they had. They had the same adapter I used on the way to Taiwan but next to it, they also had a pair of USB-C headphones from JBL.

As part of my job involves checking out the latest tech after all, I decided to pick up a pair of JBL Tune 310C USB-C headphones since they weren’t that much more expensive at just $25. Admittedly, using Apple’s adapter with standard wired headphones was a bit clunky, so I wanted to see just what real USB-C headphones were capable of.

JBL Tune 310C USB-C headphones: was $25 now $20 @ Amazon

JBL Tune 310C USB-C headphones: was $25 now $20 @ Amazon
These USB-C headphones feature JBL’s iconic Pure Bass and even offer support for Hi-Res audio. The 3-button remote with microphone lets you control music playback, answer calls and even switch between three EQ presets. They also have a tangle-free cable and come with extra sets of earbuds.

I unboxed my new pair of wired USB-C headphones as I was waiting for my group to be called and much to my surprise, they sounded really good. Besides a second set of earbuds, these headphones also have a 3-button remote on the right side that lets you control their volume, skip songs and even answer calls. However, by pushing the Plus and Minus buttons at the same time, you can switch between three EQ presets: Default, Bass or Vocal. To top it all off, they also feature a built-in DAC for high-res audio.

Even though I now have a proper pair of USB-C wired headphones for my next flight, I still owe a lot to Apple for making a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter and not charging the standard Apple Tax for it. Even at the airport, I only paid an extra $5 and that adapter proved to be a life saver during my flight to Taiwan.

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Anthony Spadafora
Senior Editor Security and Networking

Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.