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The Business Traveler’s Guide to Power Outlets When Flying

September 21st, 2016 /

Until Elon Musk saves us all by inventing wireless, through-the-air charging for our devices, we business travelers will have to remain slaves to the power outlet. When you’re on a business trip, access to power can be a constant worry. I’ve had too many experiences entering a terminal to find a sea of floor-sitters occupying the outlets when I only have 5% charge and a call coming up in a half hour.

There are options, though. If you plan for the unexpected, like I do nowadays, you will never run out of juice. Here is my exhaustive list of ways to stay charged while flying.

1. Fly the Power-friendly Skies

If possible, choose airlines that recognize the needs of modern travelers. In other words, don’t fly Southwest, United, or American. While there are certainly advantages to the flying bus that is Southwest (e.g. access to convenient airports like Burbank and Oakland), I am a fanatic for Virgin America, which has both AC and USB outlets at every seat. However, I’ve also found that most airlines’ business and first class cabins have power. You can always check whether your particular plane has power using SeatGuru’s comparison charts, which seems to include every plane model in existence.

2. Find the Hidden Outlets at Your Terminal

 If you’re going to a newer terminal like SFO’s Terminal 2, you’ll have charging stations galore and this won’t be a problem. But I’ve had some rough moments at Fort Lauderdale and Kansas City searching for an outlet and coming up short, especially when flights are delayed. When the going gets rough, here’s how to find the outlets others aren’t thinking about:

    • Behind the bar. Every bar has outlets out of plain sight, and a kind bartender will hook you up. The best part is, you get to drink while charging.
    • Underneath banks of seats. In Kansas City, I couldn’t believe my luck when I found a hidden outlet on the underside of the seat I was occupying, which was obviously placed there so vacuums could be plugged in.  
    • In the bathroom. It’s a little embarrassing, but hey, sometimes you need your laptop charged.
    • Behind brass covers. Occasionally you’ll see an outlet that is protected by a gold-colored plate. That’s just a cover that can be slid out of place using a coin to reveal an outlet. 
    • Around pay phone clusters. I know, what’s a pay phone, right? But they still exist in most airports, and there is often a power outlet underneath the main box housing the phone. 

3. Bring a Power Strip

 Although it’s one of those things that most people don’t actually bother to do, packing a multi-outlet strip in your carry-on is a surefire way to know you’ll have power. Nobody will complain if you unplug their phone for a second and re-plug it into your strip, and as a bonus, you’ll strike up a conversation with other travelers who inevitably want to borrow an outlet for a little while.

4. Keep a Portable Battery Handy

There are a ton of options for portable chargers, including those dinky $8 ones you can purchase at any drug store. I personally use a mophie charging case, which lives on your device at all times and gives you the equivalent of two batteries while acting as a protective case at the same time.  

5. Charge in Your Car

 I keep a cigarette lighter charger in my travel Tumi at all times for those moments when I’m zooming back to the rental car return and want to get some power to my phone before the airport experience begins.

6. Utilize a Lounge

 Most of us business travelers take advantage of airport lounges through the power of either a membership, a business class ticket, or an AmEx Platinum. Many (not all) lounges are uncrowded and have plenty of outlets available. (Personally, I don’t belong to a lounge, as I’d rather use my membership dollars for more useful stuff, like JetLux for corporate hotel rates and Surf Air for shared private air travel.)  

Because I use many of the above techniques, I can honestly say that it’s been a solid two years of business travel since I’ve had any worries about charging. For me, three things – the always-in-briefcase car charger, the mophie phone case, and my choice of charger-friendly airlines – solve the problem. And when I combine these strategies with other ways of easing the pain of travel, like premium hotel discounts and room upgrades, my trips are almost relaxing. I do look forward to the days of always-on charging over the airwaves, but until then, my devices and I can manage.

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