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Airports Try Electric Charging Stations

By: Matt Slagle
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Airports are working to fulfill the ever-increasing power needs of fliers.

It's a discouraging sight for busy travelers: throngs of people huddled around a lone power outlet at an airport gate, all of them hoping to recharge their BlackBerries, laptops and other gadgets.

Across the country, airports are trying to bring precious energy more conveniently to millions of travelers who rely on a plethora of battery-powered devices.

It may not be as glamorous as wireless Internet access, but in a year of unprecedented airline delays and cancellations, free, easy electrical access helps make terminal time more productive and less stressful.

At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, officials for years have been exploring several ways to pipe in more electricity.

Initially, the airport charged travelers a few dollars to juice up. But it quickly became apparent that unlike wireless Internet, people weren't willing to pay for electricity, said Ken Buchanan, DFW's vice president of revenue management

"It's like a water fountain," he said. "The expectation is there."

Two freestanding "charging kiosks" located near the DFW's heavily used train system in terminals A and B are the airport's most recent experiments.

Installed a few weeks ago, each kiosk has four seating areas equipped with a small desk and an electrical outlet. In addition, the kiosks have Ethernet plugs that tap into the facility's free Internet connection.

Buchanan said the need is particularly important at airports like DFW, which handles 60 million passengers annually—over 80 percent of them gadget-toting business travelers. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is a business magnet and home to dozens of Fortune 500 companies, including American Airlines, J.C. Penney Co. and RadioShack Corp.

"When we built terminals at the airport 30 or 40 years ago, your power was limited. As long as you had a place to plug in the vacuum cleaner, that met your needs," Buchanan said. Now, he explained, "these companies want their employees to stay connected at all times."

DFW charges interested companies—in this case Principal Financial Group—$20,000 a month per kiosk, which are covered with advertising for the Des Moines, Iowa-based financial services provider.

Bill Connors, executive director of the National Business Travel Association in Alexandria, Va., says airports are pursuing lucrative business travelers with as many perks as possible.

"The hassle factor and airports isn't all it could be these days. Airports I think are trying to complete with each other to make the experience more pleasant," he said.

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