Advertisement

Blog

What’s the Etiquette for Airport Charging?

A message thread on our site got me thinking about a very practical problem I face when traveling.

Let's say that I am carrying my laptop for business, a tablet or e-reader for entertainment, and my cellphone for the usual purposes. After a five-hour flight, I have a layover, and I need to charge any or all of these devices. Has anyone else had to walk the length of the airport terminal to find an available outlet?

I bring this up because I have been holding off on buying a tablet or e-reader. (Several of my colleagues jokingly accuse me of being anti-tablet.) My colleague Bolaji Ojo has made compelling arguments in favor of his new smartphone. I am beginning to be swayed in that direction for the following reason: Charging devices at many airports is a logistical nightmare. Heaven forbid my phone, laptop, and e-reader need to be charged at the same time. Is there a universal charger for this dilemma?

In particular — and please don't think I am anti-Apple, as well — the adaptors that iPhone/iPad owners use usually cover both sockets of a two-socket outlet. The folks using these outlets usually have headphones/ear buds on. Is it acceptable to ask them to replug their device so the second outlet is open? Or do you keep on moving? (I usually opt for the latter.)

I know there are charging stations at many airports, and they are always a relief. The downside is that most of them are stand-up stations (minus chairs), possibly to discourage idling. Depending on the length of my layover, I might want to eat, email, check my voice messages, make a phone call, and catch up on my reading. I prefer to sit through at least some of these events. (I have had some brutal layovers, but I fly from satellite airports. Time to change that strategy.)

Occasionally, I have been lucky enough to find an outlet outside a food kiosk with a café table. But this is still the exception, rather than the rule.

As a result, I'm still reading paperback books, at least when I travel. Many airports have a “read and return” program where you can trade in your used book for a discount or credit. This actually works for me. I am a very fast reader, and I have been known to finish a book between Boston and Chicago, turn it in for a second book, and put a dent in that book on the way to the West Coast.

For certain excursions, I am beginning to look at train schedules. But my next trip is actually to an island. Suggestions/tips are welcome.

31 comments on “What’s the Etiquette for Airport Charging?

  1. SunitaT
    January 14, 2012

    I bring this up because I have been holding off on buying a tablet or e-reader.

    @Barbara, I would suggest you to buy an e-reader than a tablet because I find it easy to read on e-reader than on tablet. Moreover e-reader battery life is pretty gud.

  2. Clairvoyant
    January 14, 2012

    Yes, e-readers with the “E Ink” technology displays have a very long battery life.

    Charging mobile devices in airports is definitely a problem that is getting larger. What can be done? Will airports install more outlets to help make passengers more comfortable? Or do they want to avoid spending money on this?

    I have actually seen a passenger at an airport try to move a beverage machine out from the wall enough so that they could squeeze their hand in behind to plug in a charger for a device.

  3. Alex Pohorily
    January 14, 2012

    I travel with my iPad and the power lasts a LONG time. I typcally can watch two movies and the charge only goes down to about 80% (from a full charge). This leaves lots of power to still do work. When I see someone “hogging” a power source, I usually approach with the power cord in hand holding the plug. This communicates pretty clearly that I am in need even when a person has their headphones on. I usually just say, “hey friend, can we share the power?” I usually also make some nice comment about their iPad or laptop etc. Like, “don't you just love your iPad, what a life saver huh?” 

  4. FLYINGSCOT
    January 15, 2012

    I must say that for me there is no better alternative to a tatty edged book to read when travelling.  There are no worries about damage, battery life, visibility etc.  I will look out for the read and return sites for books.  I have not seen these yet in Europe.

  5. Nemos
    January 15, 2012

    I am impressed with that:  “I am a very fast reader, and I have been known to finish a book between Boston and Chicago ” . Five hours without a plug, it sounds like a book title… but is it five hours?  The main question here should be can we stand without our laptop,tablet,mp3,mobile, for a while?

    I think that if we accept the fact that in the airplane we cannot have electricity consumption then we can program our “needs” and our schedule to that fact.

     

  6. Nemos
    January 15, 2012

    I have seen in the Zurich airport that they have put a huge power station in the lobby for charging mobile phones BUT you have to pay per minute of charge……..

  7. Himanshugupta
    January 16, 2012

    Alex, striking a positive toned conversation is a way forward to get a power outlet. As actions speak more than words, a desparately sweating face running with device in one hand and power cord in other hand speaks volume and i am sure only an idiot will refust to give away his/her seat and power outlet.

  8. Daniel
    January 16, 2012

    Barbara, you are right. Most of such gadgets yield power only 4 to 8 hours in continuous usage mode. For my smart phone I used to carry 1 or 2 extra fully charged cells for a long run, but it seems difficult for laptop and tablets. Recently I read that, the new mobile computing chips from Intel can yield a better performance with low power consumption. Since cell power is the backbone for all such handy, portable devices, it’s the right time for more R&D about storing more power in Lithium Iron/Nickel Cadmium cells.

  9. Susan Fourtané
    January 16, 2012

    Barbara, 

    In this case I would look at the airport responsibles and ask them to update their terminals according to today's needs. In an updated airport you will never experience the ordeal you have experienced to charge your devices. 

    -Susan 

  10. Susan Fourtané
    January 16, 2012

    Nemos, 

    A couple of days ago a friend told me she read a 552-page book in 6 hours. I was very impressed. She id a very fast reader and it's common for her to read a book in one day, well, in some hours. Have you ever finished a book in a day? 

    You can have in-flight Wi-Fi and keep on working or doing what you want during the length of the flight. Then it depends on the airport the difficulties or not you can find for recharging your devices. 

    In any case, battery life is something that is improving with the new models and you can have 10-hour battery life in some cases. That should be quite enough for a flight.

    -Susan 

  11. t.alex
    January 16, 2012

    The same for me. One thick book will do.

  12. Nemos
    January 16, 2012

    No I cant, for me 5 pages of reading and it is too much …… But when I say reading I mean to understand also the concept about what you are reading for and it doesnt matter if you read a History book, a Novell or a scientist book.

  13. Taimoor Zubar
    January 16, 2012

    Well this may be a life-saver for you, Barbara. All the modern smartphones and tablet can be easily charged through your USB port of the laptop. It's pretty convenient to just charge the laptop at the airport and let it “feed” the phone, tablet, music player, camera or any other gadgets you may be carrying.

  14. sbovio
    January 16, 2012

    I'm an airport charge-a-holic. My home airport has free wi-fi, but very limited power plugs. My traveling companions always know to look for me on the floor by a pole, against a wall, or, most likely, by a garbage can. It's no fun, but I hate draining my laptop before I even get on the plane. So in answer to the etiquette question – yes, if someone is blocking both outlets with one plug, I've asked them if I can move it. And my rule is to only use one (even if I need to charge my laptop and my phone) if it looks like someone else needs to charge as well.

  15. stochastic excursion
    January 16, 2012

    I don't own a tablet but I hear the iPad 1 and 2 have the longest battery life in that class of devices, at about 12 hours to a charge.  I'm not a big fan of charging my devices at the airport, another reason not to plan any trips that take longer than 12 hours.

  16. Eldredge
    January 16, 2012

    @Barbara – my first tip is: don't take the train on your next trip 😉

    I don't know about the outlets for charging, but another problem I run into is having too many electronic gadgets at the security screening. I stash my phone, keys, loose change, and anything else I can consolidate in an accessible compartment of my carry-on, so that I have as few things as possible to juggle at the checkpoint.

  17. Susan Fourtané
    January 17, 2012

    Nemos,

    Yes, I think exactly the same. She said the 552 page book was a novel and I wondered about the level of understanding the whole plot, characters, and all. When reading anything I stop between paragraphs and think about what I have read. This slows down my reading but I believe reading without elaborating my own thoughts on the reading would be somehow pointless. I guess I will never finish one book in six hours. 

    -Susan 

  18. Daniel
    January 17, 2012

    Susan, I think apart from airport, in-flight charging provisions should be provided. This is very helpful for long journey passengers and others to get charge their devices on the run.

  19. Daniel
    January 17, 2012

    Taimoor, if your laptop has enough charge or provision to charge it, you can recharge your other electronic gadgets using mini USB. But in most of the cases, we may experience charging the laptop itself, I mean charging points in airport may not be in a convenient location: most of time in some extreme points.

  20. Susan Fourtané
    January 17, 2012

    Definitely, Jacob. All the airlines should provide with what today's passenger needs and what matters instead of some ridiculous program about getting passengers to sit next to their Facebook buddies. Yes, can you believe there is an airline or two offering that? 

    -Susan

  21. Susan Fourtané
    January 17, 2012

    Jacob, 

    I just remembered that in Finland you can charge your devices in your trips by train and use their free Wi-Fi, too. This came to my mind now because I am going on a business trip on Thursday and thought it's great I am going to be able to work during the one and a half hour that the trip lasts. 

    -Susan 

  22. Daniel
    January 17, 2012

    Susan, it's true in India also. In train they had provided charging point near to each cabin/berth and we can use it for charging the electronic gadgets. The same is true for luxurious/Volvo buses and now a day's most of the cars are coming up with factory fitted laptop/mobile charging point. So far in flight, they had not provided any plug points and for entertainment they used to play 2-3 movies in different channels. Passengers have to satisfy with that. Wifi/3G is also available in major zones and peoples can access while on the go.   

  23. Daniel
    January 17, 2012

    Susan, Jet airways is providing such options in their internal flights in business class cabin services (individual cabin for each passenger). Not aware about any other airlines or services.

  24. Susan Fourtané
    January 17, 2012

    Yes, Jacob, it's like train services are one step ahead airport and airline services almost. 

    -Susan 

  25. Susan Fourtané
    January 17, 2012

    You mean the service of sitting you beside your Facebook friends or something else? 

    -Susan 

  26. Jay_Bond
    January 17, 2012

    It always seems like whenever you need a charge at the airport, you can't find an open receptacle or the open ones are on the other side of the terminal. I find it acceptable to ask a person to swap their plug around to open up a free one. As for reading books, have you thought of just getting the cheap Kindle or Nook? Without Wi-Fi on, you can read for your entire trips  without charging, in fact you should be able to make multiple trips without recharging. Not a bad option if you're just looking for something to read.

  27. kjosefschmidt
    January 17, 2012

    If you travel that much, my advice is to invest in an airline club, which usually offers an abundance of power receptacles. While membership is expensive, you can often use your miles to obtain a membership.

  28. Harry Moser
    January 17, 2012

    I carry a simple 1 to 3 adapter.  If all of the plugs by the seats are taken, I ask and always am permitted, to plug in the adapter to the wall outlet and then plug the other traveler's and my devices into the adapter. 

  29. William K.
    January 17, 2012

    The part about the chargers blocking both outlets brought out something that I had not noticed before, at least not at airports. It would appear that those creating such designs are quite likely very self centered and also that they never are around other people. Or perhaps somebody else always charges their toys for them.

    The cheap and easy workaround is a foot-long two conductor non-polarized “extension cord.” That allows you to keep the charger away from the outlet and avoid interferring with other peoples equipment. For some applications, particularly in the areas where ones extension cord may vanish, I have gone one step further and just attached the cord directly to the wall wart's two prongs by passing the bared conductors through the holes and wrapping the strands around the prongs. The elegant insulation approach then uses heatshrink sleeving for insulation and support, while the quick and dirty approach uses a wrapping of ordinary masking tape. ALL READERS MUST UNDERSAND THAT THIS IS A CLEAR VIOLATION OF THE “SAFETY PLICE “RULES. Of course, it is important to avoid allowing bare wires to be exposed, however, that same condition does keep “busy fingers” away. But it is a very effective workaround and it is very lightweight and inexpensive.

  30. Barbara Jorgensen
    January 18, 2012

    WIlliam K: understood–no liability from here! Thanks for the info. One of the best things about this job is hearing from smart and creative people that can solve the everyday problems people run into.

  31. Barbara Jorgensen
    January 18, 2012

    Definitely the best “etiquette” recommendation. Maybe we can start and handbook…:-)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.