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For international flights of 12-15+ hours, do the planes usually have AC power available in Economy? If not, is there a standard "airplane power adaptor" that can convert the DC into AC to power a laptop or other electronic item? Is this the same type of adaptor that you can use in cars, or is it a different plug type on an airplane?

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I've had normal power outlets on AA 737s on domestic US flights, and also seen DC power adaptors, likely the EmPower mentioned below, but I'm mainly concerned with long-haul flights with this question. –  jjeaton Nov 8 '11 at 18:55
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3 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

When power outlets were first installed on airliners, they used a special adapter called EmPower, which looked like this:

enter image description here

The airlines obviously thought that frequent flyers would be happy to buy a new kind of adapter for all their gizmos. This turned out not to be entirely true... nobody wanted to buy these new stupid adapters, and the airlines eventually realized that it wasn't going to work.

So they are now installing "normal" power outlets... often special receptacles with all kinds of holes that can handle just about any kind of plug, US, European, or British. If they already installed the EmPower thing, they're regretting it and replacing it with standard receptacles as fast as they can.

There is no standard rule to decide if your flight is going to have power, except for the following vague rules of thumb:

  • The higher your class of service (First vs. Coach) the more likely you are to have power
  • The longer the flight, the more likely you are to have power

The canonical way to find out is by finding out the exact aircraft you'll be flying on, and looking it up on SeatGuru to see where the power outlets are and whether they are EmPower or AC. Most airline websites will also have details on where power is available.

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I figured SeatGuru on a case-by-case basis was likely the answer, but didn't know if there were any other standards. Thanks! –  jjeaton Nov 8 '11 at 18:53
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interesting that the takes-my-normal-plug-and-probably-everyone's socket in the picture I found has an EmPower logo on it. Seems like they changed their ways too. –  Kate Gregory Nov 10 '11 at 16:37
    
I just took the flight that I was asking this question for, a Cathay Pacific 777-300 from ORD-HKG and while SeatGuru said it had "EmPower" outlets, it had the same outlet as the Air Canada one that @KateGregory mentions. I'm glad I didn't buy an adaptor. –  jjeaton Jan 26 '12 at 14:19
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I haven't flown an airline offering power in economy, but Apple offers an Apple MagSafe Airline Adapter, so I guess that the answer to that part of your question is yes, otherwise apple is lying. Seatguru.com offers insight which airline offers in flight power, but I could not find one that offers power in economy.

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Apparently, it was designed to connect to the EmPower plugs described in the other answers but it's not available anymore so the answer now seems incorrect. –  Annoyed Mar 12 at 7:45
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Air Canada has power in economy. It is a standard North American plug. There was a brief time when in-air power required a special airline-only adapter, similar to the way headphones had that strange two-prong plug. But I think these days if there's power it will be a "normal" plug for that airline. The only adapter you are likely to need is one you would use anyway in the country you're heading to.

After reading Joel's answer I realized that the plug is a little more complicated than a North American plug (though my stuff fits in it fine) and found this picture:

enter image description here

Perhaps most European devices could also use this plug.

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Right, from the photo, it looks like a dual US/Europe socket. –  Gilles Nov 8 '11 at 20:51
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