Web Informant #246, 30 April 2001:
Power to the passenger


If you travel with your laptop, you can probably figure on getting some work done for about half of your flight. No matter what kind of a battery you've got or how short a flight, you can never have enough juice to make it through your trip.

All this was supposed to change about a year ago, when airlines began installing special power adapters in some seats on their planes. The trouble is, you can't count on these adapters to be there, and if they are installed, to be actually working. The $100 adapters are now sold in various computer stores and web sites for a variety of laptops, and are called by a variety of different names, although EmPower and PowerXtender seem to be the most popular.

Ideally, I'd like to go a web site, enter my flight number and date, and find out whether the plane is equipped for laptop power and if so, which seats have them. Sorry, but the best I can offer is a list of links with some general information here.

Some airlines actually have information available about the adapters on their web site, but most don't really help their customers. Delta's, for example, says: "Laptop power outlets are available in BusinessElite and all classes of service on 777, 737-800 and 767-400 aircraft." That doesn't mean all aircraft have been fitted for the adapters.

American's web site is useless: "Your seat may be equipped with a DC power outlet." Yeah, and it may also be equipped with a working reading light and working music system too if you are lucky. Ironically, according to my sources, American has done the best job of any domestic airline, and has adapters in most of its coach seats (except for older 727s and commuter aircraft), along with business and first class seats as well. Still, you can't necessarily tell whether the equipment is functioning, just like your overhead reading light.

United's web site is most specific, but still useless: "United Airlines offers in-seat power when you fly United First or United Business. This feature is currently available on our International B767-300's (three cabin aircraft), the majority of our International B747-400's (three cabin aircraft) and North American B777, B757s, and A320s. New aircraft deliveries of the B777 arrive with laptop power activated, while our remaining 777s are currently undergoing installation or system modification where appropriate."

Second best would be calling the 800 numbers for the airlines and finding out from a sentient reservations clerk whether my intended seat has an adapter. No can do, either. I called United, just for grins, and asked if a flight leaving tomorrow from NYC to London had laptop adapters installed. The agent I spoke to tried to dig this out for me, but it wasn't as easy as say, finding out what movies are playing or what my choices in special meals would be. She even told me "There has got to be a better way of doing this," while she was tracking down which planes had the gear installed and going through a series of screens on her computer system and putting me on hold while she made a valiant effort to find this stuff out. She did verify that my plane (which happened to be on a Boeing 777) had its power adapters taken out of service due to some problems.

Since I was trying for London, I next tried British Airways. They were flying a 747, and the reservation agent told me that they offered a ticket that included laptop power capabilities, but she didn't or couldn't understand what I was asking whether the equipment actually was in working order. I got the same answer with an agent that I contacted via a web-based discussion tool (Cisco's Webline) that was on their site.

One PR person suggested "I try to call back to confirm the day before my flight and make sure that my request for a power adapter is in the computer, just like a special meal." That doesn't guarantee anything, however.

Another PR person who travels frequently told me: "Airline ticket agents are good at dispensing tickets. Gate agents are good at filling the plane. NEITHER one of them have a CLUE about what an 'Airplane Power Outlet' is. I even had one ticket agent tell me 'Of course the airplane has a power adaptor. How do you think it taxis out to the runway?' Forget the bag of peanuts. I WANT MY ELECTRICITY!"

It is ironic that this is so hard. Especially for Business and First class customers, who are spending thousands of dollars of their companies' travel budgets, you would think that the airlines could really do a service here and make it easier for them to book their seats and provide the juice.

Of course, I watch all of this with some amusement, since I gave up my laptop years ago. I prefer doing my computing when on the ground, and saving my shoulders from the burden of carrying all that gear.

I also got tired of having little room to unfold the cover, let alone enough juice to do anything worthwhile. And many times I would feel uncomfortable writing something that should be confidential in the cramped quarters that I usually travel at the back of the bus, err, plane. I once watched a woman across the aisle create her entire product proposal for some new cosmetic line in nice big Powerpoint slides, marked "Company Confidential" all over the place. If I was an industrial spy, I could have gotten her entire pitch by the time we landed.

Sure, there are lots of ways to shield your laptop from others with special polarizing filters and the like, and even a few airlines are giving back to their customers a few precious inches of seat pitch (the distance between your knee and the back of the seat in front of you, usually measured in millimeters) so you can open up those big beautiful screens without having someone crush it when they recline the seat. But I digress.

Power hasn't yet come to most of the airline passengers, sad to say. And if you have found an airline that actually can deliver, please let me know and I'll post this information on my web site.

Self-promotions dep't

If you are in the NYC area on May 15th, I'll be giving a keynote speech at a special two-day eCommerce conference hosted by CW Post University here on Long Island. You can get more details here.

To subscribe, send a blank email to

To be removed from this list, send a blank email to

David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407
back issues
entire contents copyright 2001 by David Strom, Inc.
Web Informant is ® registered trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
ISSN #1524-6353 registered with U.S. Library of Congress.