Scoot’s pay-to-play AC outlets: the future of onboard power?


Singapore Airlines’ long-haul low-cost subsidiary Scoot is introducing an innovative passenger experience with its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner — but it’s not one that passengers are going to like.

The 110V/60Hz power outlets on board Scoot’s new aircraft requires payment before economy passengers can charge up. However, most passengers will have to wait until they get on board to find that out, because the only information about it is on the airline’s Wi-Fi and connectivity page.

“In-seat power is available on Scoot’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet. With standard 110V/60Hz charging outlets, you can charge all your gadgets during your flight,” that page says, also helpfully noting that economy customers “may purchase in-seat power outlet access at a small fee of $5 for short-haul flights and $8 for long-haul flights”.

Fortunately for those wishing to splash out a few extra dollars for the roomy premium economy style business class recliners, “ScootBiz customers may enjoy complimentary access to in-seat power outlets on every seat”, adds the airline.

ScootBiz --PR

ScootBiz class

That noise you hear is airline accountants rubbing their hands together in glee across the industry, from the very lowest of LCCs, through airlines offering a basic economy fare, to full service carriers wondering whether they can find a sponsorship deal to turn off the paywall. Monetising the onboard experience has been a significant objective for some time. Witness the frequent inflight connectivity sponsorships, or the advertising on the napkin you receive with your glass of whatever.

Cellphone maker Samsung recently bought advertising space on the wall next to airport toilets to advertise the battery life of its latest phones. You won’t need to spend time hanging around here, the message said.

The technology to charge for onboard power, however, has been circling the passenger experience world for some time. Phitek, the company in the news recently for its MagSafe-style airline audio headphones (no more snapping off the pin in the socket), was at the APEX Expo in Anaheim last September offering airlines a system that would allow them to vary the amperage provided via their USB slots. See this video.

In theory, passengers could be offered a trickle for free, enabling them to keep a personal electronic device charged, but for anything that would work on one of the newer, larger, more power-hungry devices a fee would be charged.

Phitek MagSafe power system on Emirates' A380 --JW

Phitek MagSafe power system on Etihad A380

The question, though, is whether charging to use the plugs that are right there is enough of quite literally being nickeled-and-dimed to make ancillary revenue departments flinch. It certainly fails “would people be outraged on the Internet” test that a PR-savvy airline would run, not least because it isn’t really managing scarcity. Yes, devices drawing more power than others can create issues with row-by-row power management, but no airline is suggesting that paying for power shuts off the juice to the rest of the row.

But for an airline like Scoot, with its unabashedly low-cost identity plus enough ‘we charge for everything’ brand equity — and enough points of difference from full service airlines to be able to charge without perhaps alienating repeat passengers — pay-to-play power might be the next big thing.