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Executive Travel : Airline Business Travelers Find Coffee, Tea but No AC

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From Reuters

It’s now easier than ever for airborne travelers to file reports to the office, send faxes or even enter the Internet from a laptop plugged into a seat-back phone--easy, that is, if the battery works.

Which raises a larger question: Why can’t airliners be equipped with power plugs?

Skyguide, the pocket-size airline schedule published by American Express, asked that question for its July edition, which, for the first time, contains a package of articles on business travel.

“If the airline wanted to do that, we’d have to install a frequency converter so it could convert the airplane’s power, which is about 400 hertz, to 60 hertz--the typical power requirement for household appliances,” the guide quotes a Boeing spokesman as saying.

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“It’s fairly expensive to do, and maybe that’s why airlines simply haven’t asked us for it,” the spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for American Airlines said that beyond the conversion problem, “there’s only a limited amount of energy produced and it’s for aircraft needs. We’d have to rewire all the airplanes, and then there’s a question of whether we’d have to charge for the use.”

Rich Malloy, editor in chief of Mobile Office magazine, said another hindrance is that airlines are afraid a passenger might plug in a hair dryer or some other high-powered appliance and zap the power system.

So don’t look for an AC plug at your seat any time soon.

But what about better batteries?

Malloy said battery life for laptops and notebooks “is improving, but kind of slowly. The big improvement is lithium ion batteries,” which are becoming more common in portable computers.

“There were only a few but now there’s a whole bunch coming out,” he said.

For instance, Dell advertises that its new Latitude XPi Pentium-based notebook with lithium ion power will last an average of four hours and 40 minutes, or long enough for a coast-to-coast flight.

Malloy said one problem for some computers is that even though the batteries are more powerful, the units also use more power because of upgrades such as a brighter display.

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Another road to longer running time for a battery can be found in systems that bill “double” battery life. Malloy said that happens with units that, for example, offer the option of taking out the floppy disk and putting in a second battery.

He also said one non-battery approach being looked at for airlines is a cigarette lighter-type adapter plug that would draw less power.

But even that would require retrofitting and would create wiring problems the airlines might not want to tackle.

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More on Frequent Flying

* Times on Demand has prepared a compilation of recent articles about frequent-flier programs. It includes tips on compiling the miles and discussion of the tax implications of using them. Call (800) 440-3441 and order No. 2824. The price is $4, plus 50 cents for delivery.

Details on Times electronic services, B6

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