I went to Thailand this week to run a session on the future of business for a senior partner offsite of a global professional services firm.
I have had a whole series of deadlines (fortunately easing a fraction now) so had to work the whole 8 1/2 hour flight to Bangkok. I was flying Qantas business class in an A330, so I plugged in my Dell XPS 15Z laptop and it appeared to be working. Somewhat later I noticed that I was in fact running on battery power.
Neither my outlet power nor that of my neighbor appeared to be working at all. When the crew helped me try the laptop in a vacant seat’s outlet, and even the central outlet at the front of the plane, the circuit cut out. While I had some battery power remaining it ran out well before we arrived.
When I mentioned it on Twitter Charlie Isaacs and others told me it was probably a power issue, which indeed appears to be the case. In one discussion on FlyerTalk a member notes:
It’s all in the inflight magazine, in the info in the back. There’s a 75W maximum, which some laptops without batteries draw. Check with your manufacturer, as to power draw with and without battery plugged in. If it’s more then 75W… buy a new laptop… or carry lot’s of batteries…
As noted in the post and by Charlie and others, by pulling out the battery you can sometimes reduce power consumption sufficiently for the power to work on the plane. However to access the battery on my Dell requires unscrewing 6 screws, and I’m not sure that would fix it. It also seems that many Macs – on which you cannot remove the battery – have too high a power draw to function on the A330.
While some have tried to explain why there are limits to the laptop power that can be provided on a plane, it is not very customer friendly to provide power that is not sufficient for a significant proportion of laptops. People expect that if they have access to power (probably using the very useful SeatGuru Laptop Power Guide to identify whether it will be available on their flight), that the power will actually work.
I presume this is an Airbus issue and it applies across airlines. This is perhaps not an earth-shattering problem (Scott Berkun and others on Twitter accurately described it a #firstworldproblem), however it is something people should be aware of before scheduling work time on long flights.