Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The socket seekers @ Cnet.Com

Airport concourses, particularly older ones, were never known for their abundance of electrical sockets. But a convergence of factors--including new wireless Internet access in terminals, stricter airport security measures and the proliferation of power-hungry gadgets--has added to the deficit of outlets. Airports are rushing to add new ones.

"You can't help but notice business travelers hovering above the outlets at the airport, waiting for their turn," said Joanne Paternoster, a former assistant director of customer service for the aviation department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and now a consultant for Maritz Research. "People are arriving earlier at the airport so that they have enough time to make it through security, and there are just not enough outlets to go around."

Judy Bonghi, a human resources manager in Philadelphia, experienced the plug problem firsthand recently at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. She needed to recharge her DVD player on a stopover, but every outlet in the waiting area was occupied. "I ended up sitting on the floor at a gate--not my gate, since nothing was available there--to plug it in," she recalled. "And I was sitting next to another person doing the same thing with his laptop."

Atlanta's airport, the nation's busiest, is adding new outlets to accommodate customers like Bonghi. "With today's technology, there's definitely an increase in demand for outlets," said Ashraf Demian, chief electrical engineer for Hartsfield-Jackson.

How many sockets are enough? Generally speaking, the number of outlets needs to be doubled, from one every 25 feet to one every 12 feet, according to Demian. But that can be costly. The price for each outlet in a renovated concourse--like Atlanta's new international terminal, which is expected to open in four years--is $150 to $200. But in an existing structure, tearing out walls to add sockets can cost thousands per outlet, he said.

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