Blog Post

Getting Charged Up to Work in an Airport

It’s 5 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon and you managed to get through airport security on your way home, with half an hour to spare to check your e-mail and make phone calls. But your electronic device of choice is low on power.

Do you know where to find an outlet to recharge and work before your flight leaves?

If you’re a member of an airline club or fly first- or business-class you probably have nothing to worry about. The airport lounges for those who can afford them offer some privacy, with cubicles for working and phoning. Here’s one guide to airline-operated clubs worldwide. Priority Pass is a program that gives you access to clubs and lounges worldwide for an annual fee.

But that’s not an option for most of us, considering the number of weary business travelers you see around airport gates, often sitting on the floor against a wall or pillar, working away. Those people have found a power source, and some I’ve seen adopt the hard stare of someone willing to fight to keep it.

For the most part, finding power in an airport is accomplished by trial-and-error, and is frequently harder than getting a WiFi connection. Many airports worldwide make connections available, either free or for a fee of $7 to $10 a day, throughout their terminals.

For power, you learn which airlines have stations near gates with multiple outlets where you can plug in. Southwest has more of those than most airlines, in my experience. Some JetBlue gate areas also have them. Logically enough, several airlines at the San Jose, Calif., airport have stations in their gate areas.

There is not much information on the web to help you if you’re in unfamiliar airport.

One source is a WiKi on Microsoft manager Jeff Sandquist’s personal blog, appropriately named airpower. Looking at airpower, however, reveals the difficulty of the task. Typical of the entries is one for Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport:

Gate A 18: on the pole near the women’s restroom (2 outlets) – chair close by!

An entry for the Frankfurt, Germany, airport reads:

Second Floor, Beside the emergency exit next to McDonalds. Behind the table a bit away from the McDonalds itself.

In other words, the information is very helpful as far as it goes but may be incomplete. Is that table still in the same place at the Frankfurt McDonalds?

Often the only way to find a working outlet at the airport and in the concourse you need to use is to prowl around in gate areas that aren’t occupied or where the crowd is small, or in common areas just past security checkpoints.

Think of places where the cleaning crew would logically need to plug in equipment. Look behind chairs, on pillars and around airline ticketing podiums.

Another possibility is at airports where not all of the pay phones have been ripped out. At Philadelphia International, I have found that at least some cubicle-like booths with a seat and a small shelf (D Concourse) have outlets – an apparent leftover from the days when access to a landline was needed to use a laptop.

If all else fails, consider doing what one frequent flier I read about a couple of years ago does: Carry a short extension cord with a three-outlet adapter. If you find someone using the only outlet in sight, ask them to share.

If you have experience with this problem, and information to share, please let us have it.

13 Responses to “Getting Charged Up to Work in an Airport”

  1. Roland Dobbins

    I bought an external LiOn battery from BatteryGeek; it’ll power my MacBook for about 10 hours, and my iPhone probably for about two weeks, or somesuch. I carry that, along with a set of plug adaptors and a Monster Cable 4-port portable power strip.

  2. I’ve never had a problem finding a plug but have found that all plugs seemed to already be used so the power-strip or similar idea seems to be a decent one. Also I would like the stress your point on cleaning crews. In most instances you are completely correct; some floor buffer are independent but vacuums are not but most have 50ft+ cords and sometimes the plugs are under plates in the middle of floors. This typically won’t help people but some airports have some ad then a bench and an ad on the other side. Typically under these benches are outlets and sometimes they’re on the side. Remember, if it’s a lighted ad it’s powered and has a plug nearby.
    If you can’t find one, know who to ask. Most flight attendants are not familiar with that particular airport but they may allow you to use a plug in the ticketing podium. Most of the working staff in stores and food shoppes though work in the same airport consistently don’t bother themselves with the need for outlets but again, if you ask politely, they may allow you to use one on or behind the counter or one in the store. The best people to ask are the cleaning people, not the 2am cleaning people that use the buffers and vacuum because most people can find a spare plug at 2am, but the people that during the day come around and pickup the trash. Try and pick people that walk around alot and work in only that airport: day cleaning/maintenance, security, handicap escorts or similar(the golf-cart drivers).
    And honestly, the best advice if you consistently doing business trips and are in need of constant computer attention, ask the company to spring for an extra battery and get an extended life battery.

  3. I’m not a webworker but I found myself in the same situation. I was in Bucharest (Romania) and my phone was dying. I searched a few minutes after a plug until I was lucky to find a plug in one of the toilets. I left my phone there, guarding at the door and in 10 minutes I was back in business.