Passenger Plugs In Power Strip At Their Seat To Charge Multiple Devices

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Given each seat has a GFCI a power strip really only help let you charge more low power devices. With that said, this sort of goes back to your old tip to travel with one of those travel plug adaptors — many of which will let you charge multiple device simultaneously — so you can get a better connection in the worn out plugs.

  2. You know, I’m a frugal person by nature and having been a business owner for many years, understand the bottom line is important to all businesses and airlines are absolutely no exception (I’m a AA & SW shareholder as well) other than they receive subsidies and loans from the government that most small businesses don’t get and they must consider cost and the effect on the bottom line when deciding which amenities and services to offer.

    I can’t help but wonder what kind of world would it be an airline, at the beginning of every session of brainstorming, every conference call, zoom meeting, Board of Directors meeting, etc. from bottom to upper management in the very beginning of the forming of the company went on the premise of “How can we make people WANT to fly and ENJOY the experience?”
    Can we imagine a world where all seats were comfortable…maybe not all biz class or first, but actually COMFORTABLE, where you had the basic things you’d have if you were sitting in your recliner at home, a soft bottom instead of a brick to sit on, a couple of inches of elbow room, in flight entertainment (although I must say my IFE’s have always been great) wifi and chargers and good food choices?
    Most people cannot afford to fly biz or first unless it is a company paying for it or a splurge trip (if they aren’t points/miles enthusiasts) but I’d venture to say that most middle class Americans (and prob the rest of the world) would be willing to pay just a little more to not be squeezed in like sardines, to have just a little bit of space, a place for their overhead items to call their own, just a little bit of carved out “me” time/space on their flights. I’d say think of it like toilet paper. While many people may say they don’t care or think about it…given the choice, MOST people will take that roll of Charmin over the Scott tissue one ply. Sure, they pay a little more, but they consider it a small luxury. IF you’re young and on a budget, you’re gonna go the Spirit (Scott) route, but what if you had a choice to go the ______airline which is the Charmin route?
    Maybe this is what they were aiming for with Econ Plus? But what if a whole airline was dedicated just to making it a better flying experience, all the time, from seats to staff? What if they didn’t have to make it so damned uncomfortable? Do you think maybe their employees would have to spend LESS time fighting people over stupid crap like masks because they weren’t dreading wearing a mask on a plane that was hot and sitting on a brick for 7 hours? Instead they were looking forward to streaming the game on their wifi and eating hot wings and drinking beer while flying from Miami to Wyoming or wherever? Or able to tune others out while relaxing away from the kids and catching up on a reality show?
    Just thoughts…but what if they made it an ENJOYABLE FLYING EXPERIENCE?

  3. I try not to use airplane seat power because I don’t trust possible fluctuations. Or I charge it for only a few minutes if I am at 5%.

  4. Dwondermeant,
    On the contrary, the outlets in the passenger cabin are safe – or put another way, any outlet risks are really down in the noise compared to the many other real risks of commercial air travel. The passenger cabin outlets (or groups of those outlets) onboard commercial carriers are fed electricity through GFCI circuit breakers which cut off the electricity if either there is a tiny (a few milliamps or larger) ground fault, OR if the total current drawn exceeds the conservatively safe maximum allowed.
    —SE_Rob (systems engineer (INCOSE CSEP), electrical engineer (PhD), and former private pilot)

  5. Just a FYI of my non-professional understanding of circuit protection devices since there seems to be possible misunderstandings about them:

    GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) is a fast-acting circuit breaker designed to shut off electric power in the event of a ground-fault within as little as 1/40 of a second. Typically these are used near possible wet environments such as sinks to prevent people from getting electrocuted. Unless it trips off all power, it in itself does not reduce power during normal operation.

    There are also AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters) or arc-fault detection devices which are circuit breakers that breaks the circuit when it detects the electric arcs that are a signature of loose connections in wiring. Loose connections, which can develop over time, can sometimes become hot enough to ignite fires. GFCI and AFCI are not the same thing,

    Both GFCI and AFCI also differ from a regular electrical circuit breaker which is an electrical switch designed to protect an electrical circuit from damage caused by overcurrent/overload or short circuit. If too much power is pulled on a circuit, the circuit breaker will trip the power off.

  6. To continue from my earlier comments: There are also combination GFCI Breakers (a electrical panel breaker) also designed to include GFCI protection in addition to regular protection from overcurrent/overload or short circuit. This differs from a GFCI Receptacle (Outlet). Plus there are also combination Dual Function AFCI/GFCI Receptacle (Outlet).

  7. What nonsense. Here’s a radical idea: teach people to THINK before they leave for the airport. Charge all your devices before you get on the plane. Being self-sufficient is far more important than watching streaming TV on a flight.

  8. Huey,

    You’re an idiot. Devices have finite power, and that power is for ‘in the wild’. A static environment like a plane should provide power. Period.

  9. Sorry, there seems to be a bit of confusion here. it is impossible “to draw more current than available” since a circuit breaker prevents that. Adding a power strip simply makes it easier to draw up to the maximum allowed. However, since this is a shared outlet you could of course reach the limit using a powerstrip and your neighbor additional amount could shut the circuit down. However, at least in my experience most chargers draw so little I doubt it is a problem. IMHO the passenger was doing the entire row a favor.

  10. I carry one of those 3-prong splitter plugs. First, a lot of airline seat plugs are too worn to hold a 2-prong plugs, and then it allows you to plug in multiple devices. Also handy for lounges, hotels, and when there is a shortage of outlets.

  11. Wouldn’t that be amazing @Penny? If businesses actually looked at how real, true customer satisfaction could keep their profits more consistent, and kept people not just using their brand but less quick to avoid using the service altogether, rather than just focusing on what profitability they can gain from cutting corners. Many movie theater chains were already pursuing this model well before Covid impacted their bottom-lines – and I’ll bet you the ones who did, will be grateful of it, when they evaluate how much of an impact it had.

    For example, my sister and I have been trying to plan a family vacation to Orlando for a while, and never once did we seriously consider flying – even though it might be cheaper than taking 2 cars or renting a larger van. But a large portion of that is how uncomfortable we anticipate such a trip by plane. My son is 6′ tall and built like a brick wall. Sis has sciatica, and the excessively firm airplane seats are an easy pain trigger. I’m claustrophobic and have multiple chronic pain conditions – the tighter and more uncomfortable airplanes get, the harder it is for me to handle even a 2-hour flight without popping a Xanax. And just those 3 issues alone make it not worth dealing with coach seating on a plane.

    But if there actually was an airline who put reasonable comfort and accommodation into their designs, who actively pursued ways to make flying a somewhat pleasant experience, I’d consider spending a bit more to get to FL in a 3hrs vs 18hrs (if we drive non-stop). And we’re a family who has never gotten much higher in income levels than poor-adjacent, so every extra expense we add to a trip makes it increasingly unlikely we’ll get to go at all.

    If an 18-hour car trip sounds more appealing than a few hours in a plane, that tells you how unpleasant flying commercially has become.

  12. Per the AA Inflight Manual, “Power strips, splitter or Y-adapter cords for powerports are not permitted.”

  13. The vacuum cleaner outlets are not GFI protected. The circuit breaker rating is usually 15-Amps and it is of a slow tripping design. Aircraft power is pretty noisy so it could harm electronics. The seat power outlets don’t come off of circuit breakers. Electronic power converters in the seat change 400 Hz power to 60 Hz for the passengers and are GFI protected and won’t operate unless that third grounding prong is sensed by the circuitry. Otherwise, the GFI protection wouldn’t work..Also, depending on the system configuration, the outlet is usually limited to 150 watts, or 250 watts per seat group.

  14. No power outlets?
    No big deal for most sub 3 hour flights. My cellphone and laptop have me covered.
    But No usb charger available on a 4+ hour flight?
    That’s unthinkable!
    It doesn’t cost a company that much in fuel, to provide the entire 300 crew with a basic USB 2.0 compliant 7.5W charger connection. That’s 2250W max, each hour, or rob about 3HP max, out of an engine that’s made to provide about 60.000 HP!
    Usb sockets should be standard for all seats!
    And premium economy seats, as well as business seats, can have usb 3.1 ports, with a cap at 50 out of the max of 100 Watts.
    This for people wanting to charge their laptops mid flight.

    I think this should be mandatory on all flights.

  15. @ProDigit “No power outlets? No big deal for most sub 3 hour flights. ”

    False. Because passengers are often connecting from one three hour flight to another, without sufficient connecting time to recharge devices, and one of those flights might delay on the ground or even divert.

  16. @Al D,

    GFI/GFCI protection does not depend on a ground connection (and in fact devices with only two prong plugs work just find on an airplane). If any power current from the device leaks to ground (e.g., through a person to a wet floor or any grounded or fixed potential surface), then the difference in current between the two prongs of the plug will trip the GFCI device to cut off all power. In older devices this was done with an electromagnetic relay with two equal size windings but in opposite directions. Under normal conditions the magnetic fields from the two windings would cancel each other (i.e. no leakage), but if one winding had slightly more current than the other (due to current leaking to ground or somewhere), that difference in current could be enough to activate the relay and trip/disconnect both power prong connections to the plug, until the relay was manually reset. Modern devices use an operational amplifier circuit to do the same thing, but more accurately, more reliably, at less cost, and smaller/lighter.

  17. @ SE_Rob
    My comment wasn’t to discuss the various designs that exist. The vast majority of commercial aircraft In-Seat Power Supply Systems are either KID-Systeme or Astronics/Panasonic Avionics and operate as I’ve mentioned already. I’ve had to do multiple Functional Hazard Assessments and System Safety Analysis to find FAA and EASA compliance to the regulations for GFI, finger-prove, etc. A good checklist that you can look at would be CM-ES-001.

  18. I am a 51+ yr flight attendant with a major US carrier. I charge and carry all 3 of my power banks along with my cell phone. I also have a small 3 prong power strip that has 4 USB plugs. I always pack a 10′ extension cord in my suitcase. (Great for hotel rooms with inadequate or poorly situated outlets.) I carry all those items with me when I travel – whether by plane or vehicle.

    I would say there’s usually a few inop outlets on most flights. I have witnessed numerous passengers hovering near their in-seat outlet. Then their call bell rings and they demand a better seat since their outlet is broken. Since it was working :05 earlier it appeared someone had tinkered with the plug. I have noticed paper protruding from one opening, often resembling a cocktail napkin. We can document the situation for maintenance. Inop outlets do not lead to delayed or canceled flights. There’s always a chance outlets are not functional. Power banks are inexpensive, usually compact and lightweight. Planning ahead is wise.

  19. The author of this article doesn’t understand electrical systems. The section that reads, “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…” is technical nonsense. There is no power adapter in history that could work with 400hz AC power, nor is there a such thing as 400Hz power. The 60Hz frequency in AC power is the number of alternating current cycles per second. No AC device could possibly work on 400Hz AC. Please have your writing vetted by a knowledgeable source before publishing it.

  20. I’ve done this 2+ years ago on a trip to AZ I think. Or rather I brought a powerstrip on to the plane in case I needed it…. I can’t remember if I used it or not but I did bring it.

  21. Penny,

    Flying economy on JAL or ANA is like domestic first-class. American carriers aren’t so concerned with the offering the lowest price available they have cut all frills and there’s no sense of hospitality in the air.

  22. So first issue is the USB type A connectors on the seatbacks don’t always work. These type of connectors wear out much quicker than power plugs and provide low speed charging at best. On an Air France 787 flight out of Detroit this summer, 2 out of 3 seatback USB ports in my row weren’t working and since they are built into the entertainment display, probably won’t get fixed anytime soon.

    As far as using a power strip, unless you are running.multiple laptops, charging multiple devices on a power strip won’t be an issue. What will be is the huge bundle of cords hanging from the seat, which is the real reason airlines don’t want you to use power strips.

    I use a power strip when traveling internationally when I arrive. I plug in one European adapter in the wall and plug in the 3-prog strip. That way, I don’t need to bring multiple adapters, especially since most electronics use global transformers internally.

  23. I have a usb supply with a hand crank. You turn the crank and you charge your phone. Before you laugh consider that unlike most of you, I can charge my phone or another small usb device anytime, anywhere.

  24. @Penny….I totally agree. To be honest, that is the kind of thinking in most, if not all Asian and Middle Eastern based airlines. It’s only here in the US, and some airlines in Europe,that go with the ‘let’s make the flying experience as miserable and deprived as possible while charging the most money as possible ‘.

    In most of the airlines I refer to overseas, the fare comes with a meal or decent snack, a 2 bag luggage allowance, a comfortable seat and good service. I’ve always wondered why they can’t achieve this in the US. Part of the reason, I believe, was deregulation. And people crying out for lower and lower fares. Remember ‘you get what you pay for?’ Well, to a large extent, that applies to the airline industry.

  25. Air travel is literally magic. You’re flying through the air in a metal tube, with 100s of strangers, supposedly made possible by miles of wires, millions of electrical components, and gallons of highly flammable liquid. You’re flying distances in hours that used to take weeks. Instead of marveling at this amazing feat, while sitting silently in whatever seat they’re given people complain about EVERYTHING. Then to think you can bring a dollar store power strip aboard and connect it, completely disregarding the safety of EVERYONE in the air and on the ground is beyond RUDE.

  26. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dollar store strip, 3ft 3 outlet extension cord or a $200 spike protected, voltage regulating portable power supply, if it is UL/CE listed, it should be safe, electrically. If fact, most power strips have built in breakers that pop if there is a short or too much load.

    The main safety concern is tripping on the cords in an emergency. The same can be true with individual USB cables but most aren’t using multiple 6-10ft cables potentially blocking an aisle or exit.

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