Airplane Empower Solution Guide
Everything You Need to Know about Empower
- Introduction to the Empower Solution
- A Brief History of the Empower Technology
- Empower specifications
- Does the airplane on which you are traveling offer the in-seat empower connector?
- Different types of the Empower adapter
- Frequently asked questions about using the empower adapter
- Newer generation of the Empower solution
Empower is the airplane in-seat power solution that enables the crew members and the passengers to power their laptops and other portable devices on an aircraft. The whole empower system includes:
- The Empower Cabin power system, which is equipped on the airplane.
- The Empower connector, which is made available on the crew member's seat or the selected passenger's seat.
- The proper Empower adapter to plug into the in-seat Empower connector, which will allow crew members or passengers to power their portable devices.
The Empower trademark was initially referred to as the 15 Volt DC airline in-seat power system, and was first registered by Primex Technologies. The company was sold to General Dynamics and the Empower trademark ended up being assigned to Astronics Corporation, a company which offers power management and lighting systems to the global aerospace industry. According to Astronics Corporation, the original 15V DC Empower system has been "installed on over 125,000 seats on airlines worldwide, making it the most widely installed in-seat power system in the world."
The Empower system outputs 15V DC voltage. The outlet on each seat is limited to 75VA (which equals to 75Watt).
Hypertronics has a clear mechanical drawing on the Empower in-seat connector and the Empower adapter plug. Below is an abstract version.
- On the left is the Empower in-seat connector.
- On the right is the Empower adapter plug.
- You can also see the typical wiring instruction of the Empower system below.
There is no single, unified way to determine which airlines offer the in-seat power solution. Some airlines, such as United Airlines, put Empower connector on the First and the Business Class seats of their long haul flights. Some, such as Cathay Airlines, equip the Empower connector on all the seats throughout the airplane. Others may decide to use other in-seat power technology, such as the AC-outlet or the cigarette lighter connector. The best way to avoid surprise is to check the availability before boarding the airplane.
Below are the links to each major airline's official information page about the in-flight power solution:
- United Airlines
- American Airlines
- Delta Airlines
Note: Aireline company web pages have made it difficult for outside sites to link into their information. Please check the official airline company web sites for in-flight power solutions.
It should not be difficult to find out which specific aircraft the airline company will use on your trip. On the popular online travel agent sites, such as Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz, the aircraft type is listed on the detailed trip information page. Worst case scenario, you can give the airline company a call. The service agent should be able to reveal the information. After you know the type of airplane, go to the above links and you will be able to see if the empower connector is available on your trip.
Seatguru.com is the alternative place to check for the available in-flight power solution. There is a community maintained database which reflects the latest update of the in-seat power solution on each airlines / airplane. Based on the information in the database, United Airlines still offers Empower DC connector in the First and Business Classes on most of their long haul flights.
We'll focus our discussion on the laptop Empower adapter. Due to the limited 2-3 hours average battery run-time, the laptop is usually the device people will need to have an external power source hooked up to, in order to ensure its continuous operation on a long haul flight.
The most commonly seen laptop Empower adapter is the auto / air adapter (See an example here). It is a power adapter which accepts a wide range of voltage input (usually between 12V - 18V, but sometimes can work up to 32V), and generates the required voltage to power the laptop. The auto / air adapter is usually equipped with a detachable auto cigarette lighter plug. Without the auto cigarette lighter plug installed, the end of the auto / air adapter input cable becomes an Empower plug and can be plugged into the in-seat Empower connector. (See below pictures for details.)
Some auto adapters do not come with the detachable auto cigarette lighter plug design. If you have one of these auto adapters, you will need to purchase a cigarette lighter plug - to empower plug adapter. (See below pictures for details.)
The above two solutions will work. However, they both have a similar drawback - heavy in weight. In order to deal with the severe automobile battery voltage deviation, an auto / air adapter is usually designed with a more complicated circuitry. If the required laptop input voltage is in the middle of the possible auto battery voltage output range (for example, laptop needs a 16V input, which is in-between the auto battery voltage deviation range: 12 - 18V), the auto / air adapter needs to provide both voltage step-up and step-down conversion.
If you are a traveler who prefers to travel light, there is a third option to power your laptop on the airplane. Amperor provides a dedicated airplane in-line adapter. Because the adapter is designed to use only with the in-seat Empower DC 15V, it is able to trim down the circuit and weight. An Amperor airplane in-line adapter weighs only 7 ounces, and will ensure the continuous operation of your laptop during a long haul flight.
- Can I plug my 90W laptop into a 75W empower connector?
A 90W laptop is not designed to always run under full load conditions. The laptop start-up process, the Microsoft Office document handling, and movie watching all wont boost your laptop power usage to 90W. As long as you dont force the laptop to do too much multi-tasking, or play graphic intensive games on the laptop, you are ok to use the 75W Empower system to power your 90W laptop.
- Is it safe to use my laptop on the airplane?
The 2006 incident where a Dell laptop burst into flames during a Japanese conference scared a lot of people and has made them re-think about using laptops during flight. According to some experts in the laptop industry, over-charging the laptop's Lithium Ion battery is the main reason for this kind of fire hazard.
On the other hand, the modern laptop battery packs now-a-days are equipped with multi-layers of protection. The temperature, the battery voltage, the current flowing into the battery pack and many other parameters are monitored. There are also redundant protection layers just in case one of the safeguard circuitries is not working properly.
If you are using an HP laptop, you will notice an even better feature on their auto / air adapter - you can actually switch the adapter to work in either charging or non-charging mode. If the auto / air adapter is in the non-charging mode, it will only output a 15V (the charging mode will output 19V). When the HP laptop sees a 15V voltage input, it will not charge the battery pack. In other words, you can have your auto / air adapter power the laptop, and not charge the laptop battery pack at the same time. This will highly reduce the risk for using laptops during flight.
- Myth: The newer the airplane is, the lower the chance that an Empower connector will be installed by the airlines.
According to data in the seatguru.com database, the myth of saying "Empower 15V DC is a fading in-seat power technology" is not true. Some airlines are still embracing the Empower technology fully and install the solution on their new aircrafts. It looks to me like the lower cost of maintaining a single in-seat power solution across the different aircrafts still out-weighs the benefits of bringing AC power on to the airplanes.
After taking over the Empower trademark, Astronics Corporation has expanded the 15V DC technology and developed an Empower AC cabin power solution. On the airplanes that are equipped with the Empower AC solution, passengers will find the regular three-prone AC inlet on some selected seats. There are two major benefits of using the new system:
- The Empower AC system can now output up to 150W from one outlet. It is a major power output level upgrade to accompany the trend of laptops using more power.
- Instead of buying the auto / air adapter, people can now use their AC adapters that came with their laptop on the airplane.
Again, although there are more and more airlines choosing to implement the Empower AC solution, there are still many airlines who have decided to stay with the Empower 15V DC solution for its safety and lower power consumption features. You need to make sure which power solution is available to you on your seat before the trip, to avoid any surprises on the airplane.