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February 28, 2006

On Electrical Outlets in Airports: Vent or Praise

Here's an open forum for comments on airport electrical outlets: It's obviously a growing matter of concern, given the hullaballoo that surrounded Alex Saunders's post on Trudeau Airport covering (some) electrical outlets in Montreal. A colleague emailed from an airport in Paris noting that the airport magazine said 2,000 new outlets were being installed for travelers' use in Paris's facilities. Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing was accosted about using an uncertified (??) electrical device in bloody Luton.

Please post comments below about your experiences with finding electrical outlets at airports--good, bad, and ugly.


Tokyo's Narita airport has 'laptop desks' at each gate, with free power outlets beside them. They seem to be intended as a 'loss leader' for their paid WiFi access, but they don't restrict the use of the power outlets to those who've paid for access.

The intention at airports that restrict access is presumably to have one more thing that the owners can charge travelers for. The irony is that the cost of the electricity is tiny in comparison to the cost of setting up an infrastructure for selling it (vending machines, metered outlets, capping existing outlets etc), and that cost will have to be passed on to the consumer. We'll be in the odd position of paying extra for the privilege of having to pay.

That said, the 'fire hazard' pretext is not completely unreasonable. Obviously, a laptop or a portable media player is unlikely to burst spontaneously into flames, but laptops aren't the only things I've seen plugged in at airports (click on my name for an anecdote about this)

Hey Glenn - thanks for doing this. I pretty much always have my laptop with me though depending on whether or not my 20mo old is with me or note, I may or may not go online.

I have to admit that I'm pretty surprised at how difficult it is to find outlets at all in airports - open or closed. At least ones convenient to sitting in the terminal.

If price is an issue, then why don't these airports take advantage of the huge, sun-magnifying windows many of them have in terminals and install solar cells in/on them?

And for that matter, airports are some of the windiest places I know - why don't they have wind farms to generate electricity.

I wonder how big a flexible solar cell would have to be to stick to one of those windows and effectively charge a laptop.

Calgary International Airport, I was stuck there for a lay over. It took awhile to find an electrical outlet but I did find one and managed to watch a movie on my laptop (while it recharged). No hassles from any of the workers. The electrical outlets are on the pole - most on the backside facing the windows.

This is much on my mind of late, because my air travel has been ramping up, but I'm hesitant to spend money on an airline club membership simply to get a power outlet (which, after all, is one of the few benefits of a club for the wired traveler at this point).

From recent experience, I would say it's not getting any easier to find power outlets in major airports. At SFO, IAD, and ORD, the outlets have been few and far between, and usually occupied.

It seems to be the smaller airports that are doing a better job of this sort of thing. HSV has reasonable numbers of outlets and free Wi-Fi. CLT has free outlet-equipped workstations and free Wi-Fi. Why other airports don't see the marketing value of this, I can't for the life of me understand.

How much money are they saving? Is laptop electricity really that expensive? I'd wondered about this when flying through Salt Lake and San Francisco and noticed the dearth of outlets. I'm guessing that someone will come up with an affordable, universal external battery at some point, similar to the motorcycle batteries that Andy Ihnatko wrote about some time ago.

Memphis, TN:
No hassling, but a lack of available outlets -- look for some floor plugs, and in the corners of waiting areas.

(Someone should set up a DB/wiki of some form to track this info, with fields of wifi (free?) outlets (available/hasslesome/non-existant), and so on.)

[Editor's note: Agreed! And plotting how to do so. Interactive map + wiki links from the map seems best.--gf]

most laptop adaptors are rated 90W.*thats during max use, ie recharging*. at an average rate of 4~5 cents per KiloWatt hour (Massachusetts average), your two hour movie should cost you/them !~$0.01
orders of magnitude less than the rediculous overcharges*taxes* on your airplane tix softdrinks and snacks.

portland oregon has free wifi ( i don't think they added any outlets but i've never been hastled for using the existing ones.

Boise Idaho's airport sports free wifi thanks to Micron. Outlet's are scarce during busy travel times. Chicago O'Hare is practically outlet-less. I managed to find sole plug under one of the courtesy phones so I could charge my laptop and iPod. No free wireless there.

The airport in Rochester, NY (ROC) has free wifi anywhere in the terminal. They've also got power outlets, but they get progressively harder to find nearer to the gates. Check in the "business lounge" area -- they have desks, power, etc.

DEN is really, really bad with this. Very few outlets to be found, and they signed some stupid contract with AT&T so the only wifi available is overpriced (as is all wifi >$0).

I was just in the brand new terminal at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers and was pleased to find am open wifi network called "public" that was free and seemed to have no filtering or restrictions of any kind--not even a re-direct to a sign-in page. There were also public AC outlets in many convenient locations--within reach of the seats near the gates. I hope it's a glimpse of the future of air travel.

Last year I was at an airport looking for a scarce outlet. I finally found one, but it was occupied - BUT the guy using it had a little power strip hooked up to it. He was willing to share the power! I now carry a mini-power strip with me so I can share the power too.

Palm Beach International has plenty of outlets near the gates and free WiFi throughout the terminal. Great when a thunderstorm delays your two hour flight for 4-5 hours.

Within the next 10 days I'll be passing through Athens, Paris, and Mexico City and should be able to report on them.

Birmingham's airport (with free wifi) has a good number of outlets available, but a recent change of planes in Atlanta proved painful. In addition to a fee-only wifi system, the outlets were available at every other column in the terminal I visited... the problem was that half of THOSE outlets were being used to power trash cans (trash compactors!!!). The other airport of our trip was Roanoke, Va. which while small had ample outlets and free wifi (hurrah!).

I really like Michael's suggestion (above) about mini-power strips -- will need to procure one before my next trip. :)

Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International (FLL) has wonderfully free Wi-Fi but scarcely a single outlet in all of Terminal 3's gate lounges. I made a careful search yesterday while killing 6 hours there and found exactly one duplex outlet per gate seating area. None at all on building support columns, corridor walls, floors, etc. -- all the usual places you'd expect to find some.

My home airport, D/FW, has great T-Mobile service covering the whole airport (even the non-secure side for bag claim and ticketing) yet also very few outlets. I have developed a knack for spotting them, but the infrequent visitor would not have much luck with a casual search.

More problematic for me than a lack of outlets is that once an outlet is found, it is typically so worn out from constant use by electron-jacking frequent fliers that your power plug won't stay in. I travel with an Apple PowerBook and the compact Apple AC adapter places a relatively heavy mechanical load right at the AC prong, and many vertical outlets can't hold it in. Bummer! I will buy and carry a 1' multi-tap as well from now on.



I'm glad I stumbled upon this thread because I'm working on documenting all of the locations of power outlets and wifi-areas in airports on a new website. If you guys could send me any tips on where's the best area in which airport (terminal/gate) for using your laptop, I'll be sure to include it on my new site.


I'm at MCO in Orlando, Terminal pod A, gates 1-8. Not all of the pods are identical, so I don't know how consistent this is, but it looks like the outlets here are quite well-hidden in the actual baseboards. There are definitely outlets at gates 1 and 2, to the left and right as you exit the walkway into the terminal pod. These are the only ones I could find in this pod.

I know that at IAH in Houston, terminals C and E both have one or more outlet clusters in every other support column or so, quite often in plain view on the wall.

At FLL in Fort Lauderdale, there are outlets in the large columns between window clusters on the exterior walls, but they're mostly obscured by seats.

Actually I wanted to priase, ironically, Montreal. They had power outlets every few seats with clear pictograms signage above them indicating them to passengers. They were clearly provided specifically for passengers to use and there were plenty.

It was much appreciated since there was 15cm of snow that day and I knew before I even got there my plane was certainly going to be delayed. Not because of Montreal mind you, but it was coming from Toronto...

Now if we could just convince them to do free wireless.

Stuck at John Wayne in Orange County CA and can't find an outlet anywhere. The airlines and airports are idiots.... and they wonder why they can't make money. he airline industry as it is will never survive, except for Southwest. They actually have it figured out.