Passengers will make ingenious use of the limited amenities offered to them on a plane, whether it’s plugging a sewing machine into seat power to make curtains or drying underwear using the air vent above a seat.
But what if you don’t have enough outlets for your electronics? On some planes, especially in coach, you may find two outlets to be shared across three passengers (or one outlet for two passengers on a regional jet). You may also need to charge multiple devices – a laptop and a phone, plus maybe you’re using a tablet to stream entertainment on a plane without seatback entertainment.
A photo found in my social stream shows a passenger plugging a power strip into the seat’s outlet. It seems likely that a passenger trying this might attempt to draw more current than available.
When America West took over US Airways, they actually removed seat power that had been installed in Airbus narrowbody aircraft at the airline. They had no intention of investing in adding it to more aircraft. Removing it provided a ‘more consistent experience’ and also saved fuel by reducing weight on board.
Passengers, however, had other ideas. The most popular seats on many planes were the ones next to the only outlets on board – meant for cleaners to plug in their vacuums.
This wasn’t ideal since the electrical outlets are putting out 400Hz power, while a standard laptop would work off of 60Hz. Aircraft use 400Hz systems because they weigh less. However laptop chargers generally have a self-contained DC converter, and in most cases won’t have an issue even with power fluctuations from a ‘noisy’ system. Come to think of it, a surge protector power strip might have been a good idea there.