Travellers in power struggle over airline controls on mobile devices

Security curbs on bringing ‘dead’ electronic devices on board aircraft are sparking focus on better battery life

As if you didn’t have enough to remember when flying, there’s now another security requirement that you could be subjected to.

According to the latest reports from Britain and the US, travellers may now have to turn on battery-powered devices – tablets, smartphones, laptops – to prove that they are working electronics and not harbouring a terrorist threat.

The new regulations come amid heightened fears that a new type of explosive has been developed that could slip through existing security measures.

But what does it mean for passengers? If you’ve flown to the US or Britain on a long-haul flight, there’s a chance that you’ve arrived in the country with a dead tablet, a dwindling phone and a laptop battery that has seen better days. That wouldn’t be a problem if you’re already at your final destination, but what if you have a connecting flight?


It’s all a bit confusing at the moment, with some airlines saying travellers will not be allowed to carry devices on board that have run out of power, and must make other arrangements to get them to their final destination, while others – British Airways for example – have told passengers they will be refused travel and have their flights rearranged. Virgin Atlantic and BA will foot the bill for sending on any uncharged electronic device to passengers prevented from flying with them under new regulations. Yet others are still trying to work out exactly how they will operate under the new regime.

With the best intentions in the world, it’s likely that at some point you will arrive at the airport to find that your phone battery has died on the trip there. Or it’s likely to go at some point before you reach your connecting flight.

So what are your options? Finding a power outlet in an airport to give you just enough battery power to satisfy airport security can be difficult. If you are lucky enough to have airline lounge access, it’s not a problem – there are usually plenty of power points around that you can use for a quick charge – but if you have to fight with the thousands of other travellers milling around the departures area for access to the one sponsored charging area, things can get difficult.

Airports are also likely to get a lot more precious about the plug points, as power becomes a vital commodity for travellers.

Here are a few options for the power-weary traveller. If you are dangerously low on battery life, a new feature that has made its way into some smartphone models is worth exploring. This super low-powered mode will extend the battery life a bit longer, giving you anywhere from a few hours to a day from your rapidly depleting battery.

The Samsung Galaxy S5, the Huawei P7 Ascend and HTC One M8 are just some of the phones that offer these modes, cutting off unnecessary extras such as a colour screen or background apps, while still allowing you to access email, calls and other crucial features.

Shortly after today’s smartphones showed their true colours when it came to battery life, the battery manufacturers responded with a slew of portable battery packs that were designed to help you out of a tight spot. The Mophie Juice pack, for example, is available for a range of mobile phones, from the iPhone and Galaxy to HTC devices. Typically, you’ll get another few hours out of your battery, giving you enough to satisfy airport security and also get in a few games of Candy Crush on the long flights. They also have the added benefit of protecting your phone.

If you plan on carrying several devices, or don’t want to shell out cash for a case you’ll have to change in a few months’ time when you buy a new phone, get a portable charger that will work with a range of electronics rather than cases that are specific to your phone. These are widely available and charge your device using your regular USB cable, so can be more flexible than phone-specific cases.

Sony, Huawei, Motorola and other phone manufacturers offer portable charging packs, as does Mophie. You could be looking at around €25 for the Pebble Smartstick charger, €35 for the Joosa charger, or more for packs that have a bit more punch, which isn’t a bad price to pay when weighed against the cost of trusting your device to the postal system or having to rebook travel arrangements.

Laptops may be a particular problem. The average mobile power supply that will charge a phone won’t touch the power requirements of a laptop. You’ll need something a bit more heavy duty for that.

Try the Powergorilla, a flexible device that works with devices from 24 volts down to five volts, which covers everything from your laptop and DSLR camera to your iPod and smartphone. It charges most laptops at least once, and includes a range of tips that allow you to plug in almost anything to the power bank.

Things work a little differently for Mac users – you’ll need the Magsafe airline adapter, which is an extra you’ll have to buy yourself – but once you are cabled up, the Powergorilla will allow you to keep airport security satisfied by powering your MacBook and proving it’s a working device.

There’s a common complaint among smart device users that the battery life can be pretty poor at times. Remember the days when your old brick of a Nokia phone would get three days from a single charge before finally giving up the ghost? Those days are long gone.

The current crop of batteries may have improved, but the chances of seeing considerable improvement – bringing usage time rather than standby time back to several days – look less likely. The most we can hope for is eking out a few extra hours as battery capacity increases.

Wireless charging could also be a viable option for consumers. Duracell Powermat and Starbuck last month announced they had begun introducing wireless charging in the coffee chain's stores in the US, and are planning similar pilots in Asia and Europe soon. Of course, that will require consumers to have compatible devices – more cases or batteries that will work with the technology– and with a competing wireless charging standard Qi signing up Samsung, HTC, LG and Nokia, it's bound to result in confusion for consumers.

Perhaps we should be looking at ways to charge faster and smarter, like the new battery technology showed off in April by Storedot that could allow a smartphone battery to be recharged in 30 seconds. Or, maybe less palatable, the research that is currently going into using bodily fluids to power micro fuel cells.

In the meantime, Google is apparently trying to tackle battery drain with its new Android L system. The latest version of Android will benefit from something called Project Volta, which is designed to optimise power consumption on Android devices by scheduling tasks to run in a more power-efficient way. Initial test show battery life could be boosted by more than a third, which is a lot of extra time when you're facing a difficult conversation at airport security.