Heathrow Terminal 5: Electricity-free no-laptop zone?

Greg sez, "I just came back from the Heathrow Terminal 5 trials. Aside from all the regular kind of snafus to be expected when running such a trial and all the regular kinds of annoyances of dealing with airports, one particular problem stood out.

"In a brand new terminal built in the 21st century, BAA has managed to build departure waiting areas with not a single passenger-accessible power outlet. Rows and rows of hard plastic benches with armrests which prevent you from lying down--kind of makes you feel like you're in a Greyhound bus terminal and not a single power outlet.

"The nearest outlet was in the far wall near some fire equipment. The only way a laptop user could use it would be if he or she sat in the hallway obstructing people walking by." Link (Thanks, Greg!)

See also:
Montreal airport denies electricity to laptop users
Power outlets in airports wiki
Pay-per-use electricity in Dallas/Fort-Worth airport

(Image: 2006-12-12_19-10-47.jpg, a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike photo from Avinash Meetoo's Flickr stream)


  1. this is a common discovery for me in most EU airports and is sad to see that Heathrow (the worst airport ever IMO and one I try to avoid transferring through like the plague) doesn’t take traveling laptoppers comfort into account while designing a new airport terminal.

    If only all airports were as nice as Schiphol!

  2. Same thing at the Dallas airport. The very few ones available (and I ran through almost half the airport in search off one) are disabled. Only restaurants have them. I ended up begging a waitress to let me charge my phone, so I could call a hotel. I was stranded during the floods last Spring.

  3. If you ever buy waiting room furniture, you’ll discover that the inability of users to lie down is considered a big selling point by the manufacturers.

  4. In ’94, I got locked in Heathrow overnight (the IRA was shelling the place). No emergency cots, and no place to lie down. We found some better seats near the windows, but the police wouldn’t let us near them for fear that they’d shatter.

  5. @ANTINOUS: true, but Schiphol has an huge space outfitted with loungers for people to lie down on – I often check email on my laptop and catch 40 winks there between flights…more airports should be like this…

  6. Why don’t they have strolling vendors with pedal generators or battery/inverter bank carts? Like any other third world place.

  7. I don’t see why Heathrow is being singled out. Some terminals have special desks with outlets for laptops, but you’ll have to rely on your battery at most terminals.

    Armrests are also quite common.

  8. In line with Thatcherite-Blairite monetarist ideology, Heathrow Terminal 5 is designed to funnel passengers to retail shops and cafes, and to maximise revenue-extracting opportunities. It’s surprising that there is anywhere to sit down there without being obliged to pay for an overpriced coffee or cake (though the ratio of retail to non-retail space is far greater than at the older terminals).

  9. I estimate in just a few years, battery life for most laptops will make this a temporary setback at best.

    Hell, they may even have crank-handled power.

  10. tucker phones never had a phone, that was the idea.

    One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) clamp charger, 15 VDC at an amp and a half, $13 ,not for general sale(yet)

    maybe the idea at Heathrow IS to drive away people.
    They think there is no way to fix it so they just keep making it worse so it’ll die a semi-natural death and they can start over

  11. I work in a bookstore which happens to have a coffee shop in the center. We don’t allow people to use the electrical outlets for a liability reason: if there’s a power surge and someone’s laptop is mangled, the company doesn’t want to be responsible. Makes sense from a corporate law point of view. Then again, I’m not a litigious kind of person and I probably wouldn’t sue a company if that worst-case scenario happened to me.

  12. I guess, Tak-kun, that you haven’t taken my advice from the other day and used the empirical method.

  13. Anechoic: “If only all airports were as nice as Schiphol!”

    Schiphol wants 6 Euro for 30 minutes of wifi, or 10 Euro for 24 hours. You really need to want to check your e-mail at that rate.

    Schiphol is indeed aesthetically nice, particularly compared to other Western hubs like LAX, Heathrow or JFK, but it can’t hold a candle to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore’s Changi, and other free wifi, comforts aplenty Asian airports.

  14. Heathrow is a pit, a hole a dump. Sadly it is my local airport and my heart sinks whenever I have to travel from there or return there. It is an embarrassing advert for the UK , especially if you have come from Dubai or Singapore, or any other airport where they don’t treat customer service as secondary to profit.

  15. D y hv srs mdcl cndtn tht prvnts y frm fnctnng wtht lptp? D y fl dsbld by lck f pblc pwr tlts? Thn prhps y shld crry spr bttry, nd sht th hll p.

    r w mnt t sy “h pr y, y fly vrywhr, wn lptp, h pr flyng lptp ppl.” Why dn’t y tk th trn fr chng nd wrt yr blgs n yr cll phn nd rprt n trvl tht sn’t scrwng p th wrld’s clmt qt s mch, r rprt n, sy, th lck f drnkng wtr fntns n pblc plcs. Srly tht’s mr f rght thn fr lctrcty.

    Ths sn’t “wndrfl thngs” nr s t ctvsm nd y ddn’t vn wrk ncrn r pxlcrft nt th stry. Pls fltr t “btchng bt rprts” vn f t mns n dy lvng t th stry bt smn hvng th dcty t d n yr flght nd st thr, dd, n th nxt bsnss clss st, bt w dn’t cr t hr y cmplnng bt t. Stp. Btchng. bt. rprts. Pls.

  16. Pengo,

    Impulse control and the ability to cope with frustration are hallmarks of adult behavior. Please don’t comment when you’re in hysterics.

  17. @Pengo:

    In case you haven’t noticed, it’s an increasingly networked world. And while I’d like to take the train, somehow they haven’t built a tunnel under the Atlantic yet.

    Although I have to agree that bitching about Heathrow is kind of beating a dead, rotting, bloated, zombie horse.


  18. I would argue that one of the major topics on BoingBoing is design and humanistic engineering. If you’re going to write about wonderful design, it makes sense to write about bad, misanthropic, anti-human design as well.

    For my tax money, the armrest/no-laying-down thing is much more egregious. It’s everywhere here in the USA, a clear “fuck you” to the public. When some part of the system breaks down and people need to sleep, they’re blocked from doing so by acres of rigid, useless furniture.

  19. Toestubber

    Excellent point.

    There were quite a few problems in America and Europe over the holidays with delays and snow. I’m sure that wifi- even if it were made available only under such circumstances- would have been appreciated by travelers trying to advise loved ones of their delays. Same for armrest-free spaces to recline.

    Takuan- or anybody

    What price would you be willing to pay for an hour of outlet access?

  20. Insomnia, here at home I pay, what, 25 cents per kWh? My laptop draws 19 V at 3.42 A (says so on the label) = 65 W. That’s, humm, 0.07 kW. I’d be willing to pay a 300% markup, because God knows airports are struggling for their very existence, right? I give the beggar on the corner a quarter, too, when he asks.

    So an hour of laptop power should cost me 7 cents. Ah, hell, it is charity to give the airport money, so let’s just call it a quarter for them, too.

  21. I am surprised that no one brought up the face that there might not be any plugs for security reasons.
    I have been through a few British airports and also noted that there are no garbage cans. And don’t even think of walking away from your luggage unless you want it to stay in a bomb proof room for 24 hours and get a nice talking to.

  22. One thing that should be in everyone’s laptop bag is a cheap multi-adapter. I got mine at WalMart for under a buck, you plug it in to the wall and it turns 1 plug into 3. Great for when there’s only one plug and multiple people who want to recharge. I bought a few extra and give them away to people who let me use mine to share the plug they’re currently using, and I always plug in using it so that people can see that there are extra plugs available.

    As for “security concerns,” I have yet to hear of a terrorist who was desperate to recharge his bomb before his flight left.

  23. you mean a “cube-tap”? One thing about those; many recent made-in China imports are so badly constructed (literally paper-thin brass inside) with counterfeit UL/CSA labels that you are safer paying three or four bucks for a made-in-North America or Europe or Japan item. Only they counterfeit that too. Watch for fire hazard, shock hazard and equipment damage.

  24. @26

    how much for an hour of laptop juice?

    If I were running the concession; each customer would be interviewed as to the direness of his need and assessed (on basis of clothing, jewelery, accent etc. ) as to income. Then I would charge as much as possible.

    Or we could open it to competitive bids for meters at different points throughout the airport and let the market decide.

  25. This, IMNSHO, is great news. Flying (especially non-essential, “recreational” travel – absurd idea), be made as expensive, unpleasant, difficult and hassle-filled as possible if you don’t want your grandchildren to be agricultural peasants due to collapse of global socioeconomic structures caused by the end of oil and the 6m sea-level rise that’s destroyed every world city on the coast or navigable river (hint: cities grow near sources of transport and trade.) Actually, that’s all probably inevitable by now, but bringing a little unnecessary unpleasantness into the lives of those people who’ve grown up with the bizarre idea that international travel for the price of a few hours’ wages is a right brings me a small amount of bitter, vindictive satisfaction. That probably means I’m a bad person, but hey, who’s perfect?

  26. Michael (#29, 30): that’s what you pay for your electricity. You don’t know what it actually costs. (Hint: externalities.)

  27. to paraphrase the Duke of Wellington:” The construction of public railways will only encourage the lower masses to move about needlessly (now fetch me my boots, we’re coming up on a farmyard)”

    I also think there is too much stupid and unnecessary travel – damned democracy.

  28. I recently flew Southwest Airlines out of Baltimore Washington International’s Concourse A, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they have taken a different approach to the problem. They have installed several 3 seat counters at each of their gates with ample 3-prong and USB power outlets. This is probably part of Southwest’s recent push to capture more of the business travel market, and I can only hope that it becomes a wider trend.

  29. You folks do realize that just about every wretched greyhound terminal I’ve been in (Even Detroit, for crying-out-loud, which looked like a layover in Tikrit.) had a power strip for recharging cellphones?
    I’m guessing it’s probably because in the station that didn’t have a strip, somebody shoved the soda machines out of the way so they could get at their outlets. After enough property damage and lost soda revenue, the vendors probably get wise and spend $5 on screwing a power strip to the wall.
    I’m sure there’s a moral in there somewhere.

  30. Tip on the airline seating which precludes sleeping across due to armrest placement:

    When terminal is nearly empty (overnight layover) most are not anchored to the ground and by turning over the row (so that the tops and armrests are on the ground) it is possible to sleep long wise across the bottoms of the seats.

    Tip 2:
    Sometimes sleeping under the row of seats will suffice, with a pillow on top of the chair bench leg. (Added benefit is that the seat bottoms will filter the light.)

Comments are closed.