Recently, a guy got arrested for charging his Nissan Leaf. I don't have an electric car yet, but I do this so often. That is, when I am traveling and I see an outlet I feel free to charge my gadgets. Given the conversations I usually have - charging your gear is the new smoking ;) - I am not the only one.

Are we all stealing electricity and risk prosecution?

  • FWIW, this guy most likely was arrested because he was being belligerent, not necessarily because he was 'stealing' electricity.
    – n00b
    Dec 10, 2013 at 15:12
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    There is a lot more to the Leaf story than much of the press has reported. For example, the gentleman in question had previously been barred from being on school property, and specifically from the tennis court area where he was at the time.
    – Doc
    Dec 10, 2013 at 19:40
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    @hippietrail, a cube tap is a particularly compact way to expand a single US AC outlet into usually three outlets. The equivalent may or may not exist abroad. They can be cheaply made because each of the three terminals is a single piece of metal stamping, held apart by the shell, so no hand-wiring is required to assemble them. Other shapes exist, but usually trade off additional volume for features like extra room for the cords, or more outputs. The linked example is typical of the breed, and would easily fit in corner in a laptop bag pocket.
    – RBerteig
    Dec 11, 2013 at 22:26
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    Purely anecdotal, but LAX was covered in power sockets and USB charging sockets when I was there. They were clearly there purely for the convenience of the people in the terminal. In cases like that, I think it's pretty obvious that it' OK for you to use them. May 23, 2015 at 9:24

2 Answers 2


I used to 'get around this' technicality by asking at the info desks at airports where there might be a power point to charge my laptop etc, even if I'd spotted some. They'd usually helpfully point out one, or say 'oh just use any you find'. That way I figured I'd be able to argue being covered if it came down to security yelling at me or worse.

I've also since seen some airports tape over power points, presumably because they don't want it to be used.

Others openly point to them, and indicate free Wi-Fi all around and so on.

One view is that you can walk in - anyone's welcome despite it being private property. They're certainly happy for you to use their power and water in the washroom, on the assumption you're a passenger as well. One could argue reasonable assumption in court if it came down to it, but it'd be interesting to see how that went.

Sleepinginairports notes that many airports have made quite the effort in deactivating outlets.

Wikipedia notes that it's common for airport lounges to have power outlets for passengers to use.

I think the difference between the Leaf incident and what you're asking is that the guy was not somewhere he could reasonably be expected to be, with no reasonable expectation of use of their facilities. Much like if you use the electricity at your friend's house, they're unlikely (I'd hope) to be able to sue you, the airport already offers you its facilities, and indeed wants to you spend time eating, dining and so on there.

Of course, until this actually goes to court, we are not lawyers, and likely cannot do much more than speculate on what would result, unfortunately.

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    I think the biggest reason why someone might get in trouble for this sort of thing is if they became belligerent when asked not to use a power port. All we can do as travellers is use our best judgement, and when we get it wrong, a simple "sorry, I didn't realize" goes a long way.
    – gabedwrds
    Dec 11, 2013 at 4:04
  • @gabedwrds indeed, as I wrote on this question, it's sometimes easier to ask for forgiveness. Most people are going to be fine as long as you apologise (if it's even an issue)
    – Mark Mayo
    Dec 11, 2013 at 4:22

It's not theft. Unless otherwise noted, intentionally blocked, or obviously intended for some other purpose (e.g. to plug in an ATM), the outlets in the waiting area are specifically there for passenger convenience.

In fact, airliners and airports are specifically expanding this functionality for more people to take advantage of;

Omaha's Eppley Airfield has also been adding electrical outlets in various areas of the terminal and has more installations planned in the near future. "We regard them as a necessary amenity to users of the terminal," said Stan Kathol, director, finance and administration for the Omaha Airport Authority, "The traditional building-wall outlets only are no longer sufficient in today's society."


When the $907 million expanded Terminal 2 opened at San Diego International Airport this past August, the USB-enhanced power ports (more than 1,600 in total) at every seat were among the new amenities touted. "It's been tremendously popular," said airport spokeswoman Katie Jones... Just last week, Huntsville International Airport installed a half dozen new charging stations

Several airport spokespeople and directors are qouted in this article, touting their airports increase in the availability of such power outlets (and creating power stations to add to the already available power supplies). Clearly, if airport spokespeople and directors are touting the use of such power outlets, the airports intend for passengers to use them.

Even if wall outlets in airport seating areas were not originally placed there for passenger convenience, if an airport has taken no measures to block or otherwise discourage the use of such outlets, that should be a pretty good indication to you, that they are ok with it (or at the very least, that they don't care).

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