What would an airplane album sound like? Silence, sort of. More technically, the sound from the airflow and aircraft engines that passengers hear inside the cabin is pink noise, white noise’s low-pitch cousin. Like a deep, continuous exhale, its ambient acoustics can actually have a calming effect. Think babbling brook, crackling fireplace, or rain shower – all of which you will find in Amazon Alexa’s relaxing sleep sound library, alongside airplane noises.
Studies have shown that pink noise can improve sleep quality, concentration and even memory. It’s why there are apps, albums and videos that simulate the conch croon of the cabin. One YouTube video depicts nothing but a window-seat view of a wing rocking against a starry sky as clouds drift by like tumbleweed. The 10-hour video has been watched – or listened to – over 3 million times, and it has the benefit of being more relaxing than the average level of noise in an actual airplane cabin, which produces sound levels between 85 and 105 dB.
The secret to pink noise isn’t so much the noise it makes, but the noise it masks. While it feels counterintuitive, the addition of a constant, low-frequency sound to a space can reduce the effect of less desirable cacophony, like horns, wails and snores. Random clamour is disruptive to the ear, which is why some companies play pink noise in open offices to diminish distractions. This also explains why, in a study, passengers rated a louder aircraft “quieter” than a plane that technically produces less noise. The high-altitude drone does a better job of drowning out chatty Chad in 45A and, as a result, the cabin seems more serene.
Turns out deafening silence isn’t such an oxymoron after all.
Songs on a plane
Feeling the (pink) noise can lead to great things. Here are six hits that were penned on a plane.
She’s a Lady — by Tom Jones Paul Anka penned this single for Jones in 1971 on a return trip from London.
Both Sides Now — by Joni Mitchell Mitchell was looking at clouds from above when she concluded, “I really don’t know clouds at all.”
Don’t Get Me Wrong — by The Pretenders An airline jingle inspired frontwoman Chrissie Hynde to write this track.
Bootylicious — by Destiny’s Child Listening to Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” on a trip to Japan got Beyoncé riffing.
On the Road Again — by Willie Nelson Nelson was actually in the air again when he composed this classic country ditty.
Casa Dega — by Tom Petty Petty wrote lyrics to this catchy tune on a flight after reading a New York Times article about a strange town in his home state, Florida.