For flyers, the search for electronic sockets is on

  • Article by: JILL SCHENSUL , The (Hackensack, N.J.) Record
  • Updated: December 20, 2013 - 1:00 PM

Now that passengers can use electronic devices throughout the flight, airlines will need to add sufficient power outlets.


Once I got started with my writing, I checked my laptop battery. Near full charge, but I knew I’d keep checking. I knew it would be a distraction. If the plane had Wi-Fi, it ought to be high-tech enough to have power outlets, right? And so I began the hunt for a socket.

Nothing on any of the seat arms, or in front of me. I did the human pretzel thing to see if there was one on the metal dividers between the seats, or under the seat. Futile, as well as really awkward. No juice.

But it got me thinking. I had, first of all, paid $9.95 for a whole flight’s worth of Wi-Fi. In essence I was paying for a whole battery’s worth of Wi-Fi, which could be considerably less, depending on the laptop, the battery, the programs I was using, etc.

But more than the cost of Wi-Fi, the lack of power seemed to carry extra weight now that passengers can use their electronic devices even during takeoff and landing. That’s going to allow us to use them an hour longer, at the very least. More, of course, if we’re stuck on the tarmac for a while.

Wi-Fi onboard not only means more people might be using their laptops, but they’ll be sucking more juice using battery-draining programs.

I also realized that my laptop was pretty much my entertainment during the flight. There was no personal video screen, no music, no movie on overhead screens. In fact, airlines have begun tying their entertainment offerings to individual portable devices. They offer iPad rentals for a price (in business and first class they’re free, of course). Otherwise, you can use your own device.

Southwest last year became the first airline to stream live TV directly to passengers’ Wi-Fi-enabled portable devices; in the past, Southwest didn’t have any form of in-flight entertainment. United Airlines now offers movies and TV shows through its wireless entertainment service aboard select 777 aircraft. In fact, that’s the only entertainment offered on those flights.

But if they want us to make use of our electronics, we’ll need electricity. United cautions passengers on its website: “If you’re traveling on a flight with wireless entertainment, be sure to bring your fully-charged laptop, smartphone or tablet, and your headphones. Power outlets and Wi-Fi Internet service are not currently available on aircraft with wireless entertainment,” adding that “these features will be added soon.”

Back in 2006, airlines began paying attention to in-seat electricity. But they haven’t kept up with demand; currently only a fraction of domestic flights — some estimate as few as 5 percent — offer electrical outlets for passengers. The paucity of power is more noticeable to the millions of passengers toting their smartphones, tablets, netbooks, iPads, etc.

I rarely see outlets on flights. They are most often available in upper classes of service, or throughout the plane on long-haul flights. I’ve upgraded to seats that have outlets, only to find they didn’t work.

The good news is that many airlines are making plane-wide seat upgrades, and those seats will include power outlets — maybe not at every individual seat in coach, but enough to be able to share with your row-mates.

Hopefully, airlines will get the message, and the outlets will begin to appear. Though we’ll probably have to pay for that juice, along with the pretzels.

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