Friday, March 11, 2011

Freebie Friday: The Ethics of Free Power at the Airport

I'm diverging from my usual Friday Freebie format of highlighting good deals to discuss a freebie we all take for granted, but that may have sticky ethical issues attached: using the often scarce power outlets at airports. The New York Times recently ran an interesting blog on the topic that generated much controversy.

To whit: does the early bird deserve the outlet? The author, after traveling the length of a terminal in vain, could find no available outlets to use for a recharge. This despite the fact that she apparently sent many mournful and meaningful glances towards the power hogs, some of whom had the temerity to be using their laptops not for work, but to watch movies. The author then asked: should there be a limit to the amount of time people are allowed to use the outlets?

 I'd say no, but that may be because I'm in possession of an older MacBook Air that holds its charge about as long as one can hold back a sneeze. I'm one of those people who will sit on the floor to be near an outlet, just so I can work with the power flowing for as long as I can before a flight (and use up none of my precious battery power at the airport). Until I read this blog, I assumed that others thought as I did: those who get to the outlets first are their lord and least until their planes depart.

But others, it seems, are much less greedy than I. A surprising number of people now carry 3-outlet plugs or even full power strips on the road. That way they know they'll always have power, and have the ability to share kindly with others. (I'm guessing these are the same folks who always remembered to bring extra cookies to kindergarten.) While I applaud these forward thinkers, I also worry that it undermines one of the cardinal necessities of traveling comfortably which is to carry as little as possible (especially the full power strip--sheesh!).

Frankly, I'm not sure there is a real solution to this problem, or at least one that's in consumer's hands. Its up to the airport to know that we expect the fees that we pay for airport usage to go towards amenities we all need, like more outlets. Hopefully, blogs like the ones in the New York Times (and perhaps consumer letters) will push the powers-that-be to add more of these helpful holes in the wall.
(photo by Quinn Anya)


  1. How long before the meters go up on the power supplies in airports?

  2. Ha! You're right Scott. Any way to make a buck!