United EmPower and my ThinkPad T60p: iGo everywhereMAX

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When I thought about what to pack for this trip on Friday night, I checked once again what aircraft I’d be on: United 777 International configuration. Oh, the horror! “EmPower”. In case you don’t know what that means: EmPower is a proprietary power outlet providing 15V DC with a maximum of 75W. It practically only exists on aircraft and it’s a gold-mine for companies selling extra power-supplies for Notebooks and practically any other electronic device that you might use while on an aircraft – and lucky enough to sit somewhere towards the front of the aircraft.

Now, if it’s not yet obvious, let me be clear: I believe that having to buy some extra adapter to power my notebook in business class is a scandal. It may be my previous Lufthansa bias, but I think these outlets ought to be following some real-world standard, even if that were 115V/60Hz AC. But none of the complaining is helping me power the notebook, so I broke down and bought the required adapter at SeaTac airport this morning: iGo everywhereMAX. 139.99 + tax. One-hundred-and-forty bucks. For a power adapter. That’s a rip-off. This should be illegal.

It does what it is advertised to do. There’s a standard U.S. power cable and a “works on the plane and in your car and on your boat” adapter that’s EmPower compatible once you pull the standard cigarette-lighter adapter off. The package comes with a plastic bag of notebook adapters and the coverage is indeed very good; all the notebooks in the family and the ones I use for work are on the list. Acer, Dell, Toshiba, Sony, Compaq, Gateway, HP, …

I’d be unhappy if I owned a Mac, because there doesn’t seem to be any support for Apple machines. I’m a PC, I have power on this flight :)

You’d think that the extra power outlet for devices (phones, music players, etc) would be based on something reasonably standard – USB maybe. Noooo! It’s some weird only-compatible-with-this-power-adapter plug that iGo must have made up while laughing evilly. You can get a USB plug, but you will have to buy that extra. Also, the AC power cord won’t do me any good in countries that aren’t using the two-blade U.S. power plug (—> most countries). Lucky me, I already brought a universal adapter along, because my new $140-plus-tax electric-engineering masterpiece wouldn’t me of much use on the ground.

Given the number of hour I’ll spend on aircraft in the upcoming weeks I wonder whether my execusphere is going to let me expense it.

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