Airline passengers with electronic devices parched for pre-flight power often get creative about charging up their gadgets.
“We’ve noticed people sitting on the floor next to an outlet, moving airport seating to be closer to an outlet, or even unplugging things like an ATM to get electricity,” said Chantel Minish, spokeswoman for Alabama’s Huntsville International Airport (HSV).
At Tulsa International Airport (TUL), passengers have also been found powering up “next to a vending machine, in the bathroom or up against a wall in a hallway,” said Alexis Higgins of the Tulsa Airport Authority.
“Not only can these actions create trip hazards by stretching power cords across walkways, it just isn’t the type of environment we want to set for our customers,” said HSV’s Minish.
To address these and other service issues for travelers, airports across the country have been rapidly expanding the number – and type – of accessible power sources. Good thing, because now that the Federal Aviation Administration has given airlines the go-ahead to permit the use of personal electronic devices in more phases of flight, passengers are more power hungry than ever.
Here’s a round-up of what some airports – and airlines – are doing to feed the growing need for power.
When the $907 million expanded Terminal 2 opened at San Diego International Airport this past August, the USB-enhanced power ports (more than 1,600 in total) at every seat were among the new amenities touted. “It’s been tremendously popular,” said airport spokeswoman Katie Jones.
On the recently renovated Concourse B at Tulsa International Airport, there are now an average of 74 power outlets per gate. “That’s one of the highest averages in the country,” said Higgins, who notes that renovations currently underway on the airport’s other concourse include plans for a similar number of outlets.
Just last week, Huntsville International Airport installed a half dozen new charging stations and “within five minutes of the first one being installed, someone was already using it,” said Minish. Beyond expanded customer service, Minish said the airport also expects the new power ports to alleviate some work for custodians and technicians who now often end up putting seats back in place, fixing broken electrical outlet covers and addressing equipment issues caused by machinery getting unplugged.
Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport is just finishing up a project to install more than 60 charging stations, each with six power outlets and two USB ports. “Although we started the planning for this project far in advance of the news regarding the FAA’s change in the use of mobile electronics, the timing of our actual install seems to be perfect,” said airport marketing manager Ryan McAdams. “Our electricians have told us that the minute they finish installing one, people are asking them if they can use it.”
Omaha’s Eppley Airfield has also been adding electrical outlets in various areas of the terminal and has more installations planned in the near future. “We regard them as a necessary amenity to users of the terminal,” said Stan Kathol, director, finance and administration for the Omaha Airport Authority, “The traditional building-wall outlets only are no longer sufficient in today’s society.”
Access to electricity at an airport is also sometimes far more than a customer amenity. “We saw this in action during the 2011 tornadoes that devastated Alabama,” said HSV’s Minish.
HSV remained open and running on back-up generators when power was out in the area, “With limited power throughout the region, our airport was one of the only places you could charge your devices,” said Minish. “We even saw non-travelers seeking power at our airport, which we were happy to provide.”
Airlines help out
At some airports, airlines pitch in to help provide power sources for passengers.
In more than 40 airports around the world where Delta has major operations, the airline has added branded recharging stations. “Every gate will have at least two Delta branded stations that will feature six standard 110 volt outlets and two USB ports per station,” said airline spokesman Paul Skrbec. “Larger gate areas have more than two stations, but the numbers vary from city to city.”
During major building and renovation projects at Los Angeles, San Jose and Sacramento airports, Alaska Airlines helped insure there would be gate seating with power options. In those cities, the airport owns and maintains the seating, but at airports in Anchorage, Seattle and Portland, Alaska purchased the units, “with the objective to provide a power option for 60% of the seats,” said airline spokeswoman Bobbie Egan. “We own and maintain the seats at ANC, PDX, and SEA, and maintain the power modules as well.”
Back in 2007, when Southwest Airlines revised its boarding procedures, the airline began creating gate waiting areas with ottoman style chairs, tables with power outlets and power stations with stools. Slimmer, more contemporary powered seats have been added to the mix, which are now available in almost all of the 89 destinations the airline serves, said Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins.
Representatives from other airlines, including United, American and Virgin America said they also work closely with their airport partners to offer power options for passengers at the gates, with some hub airports getting extra attention.
Virgin America, for example, worked with San Francisco International Airport on the power-friendly design of Terminal 2. At George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, “50% of the seats at our new Terminal B south concourse have power outlets and USB ports, and there are power poles at the gate in Terminal C and E,” said United Airlines spokeswoman Karen May. And “in the newly revamped areas of Terminal A, American offers power outlets and work tables at all gates,” said airline spokesman Matt Miller.
Of course, the next frontier is being able to plug in and power up on airplanes. And any airline not currently offering power at every seat is busy working out how to make that option universal.
Keep your electronic devices on – if you’ve got the juice – for more details on that.
(My story about airport power outlets first appeared as an At the Airport column on USA Today)