A Pan Am advert in a 1970 issue of the New York Times advertizing pneumatic headphones. Image via AVID Products

A Pan Am advert in a 1970 issue of the New York Times advertizing pneumatic headphones. Image via AVID Products.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of APEX EXPO this year, APEX Media is looking back at its members’ most significant achievements. Today, we look at how AVID Products’ pneumatic headsets delivered audio to passengers at their seats for the very first time.

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In 1951, AVID (Audio Video Instructional Devices) Products, created its AVID Airline Products division to manufacture airline passenger control units at its Middletown, Rhode Island, facility in the United States.

A decade later, in 1961, the company teamed up with Trans World Airlines (TWA), which had recently begun showing in-flight movies thanks to Inflight Motion Pictures, to create the first pneumatic headset for airline passengers.

Pneumatic headsets, the first of which began flying with TWA in 1963, worked by transmitting stereophonic sound through hollow, plastic tubes from a small speaker plugged into the armrest. According to a passenger who used the headsets, “If the cabin was quiet, you could place you ear next to the audio panel and hear the sound from the holes where the headsets plugged in.”

Soon after their debut on TWA, AVID said it was producing in-flight entertainment headsets for 97% of the world’s airlines. Pneumatic headsets remained dominant in the aviation market until July 1, 1979, when the Sony Walkman went on sale. AVID described the Sony Walkman as “the first portable entertainment device to be packaged with a low-cost, mass-produced electronic headset.”

However, electronic headsets took a while to be rolled out across airline cabins – initially they were a premium offering for first- and business-class passengers. Delta Air Lines was the last airline to phase out pneumatic headsets in 2003, claims Wikipedia.

See more posts from the 40 Success Stories campaign.