How Do I Charge a Laptop on an Airplane?

By Carol Finch

Find out if your plane has power ports and what you can do with them. Find out other ways to charge a laptop on a flight.

Things You'll Need

  • Laptop
  • Airplane power adapter/charger
  • In-seat power supply with sufficient power to charge your battery

In an ideal world, you can take your laptop on a flight, plug it in to a power port and charge it while you work or play in the air. Although many airlines have power options for mobile devices, they may not all reach these giddy heights of convenience. It's important to check if you can use ports on your plane and to understand their limits. To be a savvy, prepared passenger, carry emergency charging options and prepare your laptop for takeoff.

Check Charging and Power Options

Before you book a flight or fly, check your airline to see if it has in-seat power options on your plane. Some airlines allocate a power port to every seat; others restrict them to certain locations. Trip Advisor's Seat Guru website is a good place to start. You can search by airline, type of flight or flight number to see seat maps that show the location and power source of ports. Airlines may also include information on power options on their websites.

Warning

Keep in mind that airlines don't always offer the same power options on all their flights. This often depends on the type and age of aircraft. Newer planes may come with power ports as standard; older ones may not have any or may have limited options.

Although you may breathe a sigh of relief when you find out that your flight has in-seat power, this may not be as good as it sounds. Airlines often restrict power capacity to their ports, limiting how you can use them. You may get enough power to run your laptop but not enough to charge it. For example, Virgin Atlantic states on its website that you can use sockets to operate devices, but you can't use them to charge for safety reasons.

Power sockets on planes are not all the same, and it's also important to check the type of port you can use before you fly, as you may need an adapter to run your laptop. Typical options include:

  • AC Power
  • DC Power
  • EmPower

AC power should be OK with your regular plug. If your plane uses DC power or EmPower, you need an adapter. Some planes give you the option of using USB ports, in which case you need to carry a USB wire.

Tip

If you have a high-spec laptop with high power needs, it may not run on in-seat ports. However, it may work if you remove its battery.

Carry Extra Batteries

Even if your flight has power options, there's no guarantee you can use them. Ports may not work or may be damaged. Plus, if you're sharing an outlet with the person sitting next to you and they get to it first, you won't be able to plug in your laptop unless they're willing to share.

It's a good idea to take a backup option with you. For example, you can carry an extra laptop battery, so you can switch when your current one runs out. Or consider taking an external battery or portable charger that you can plug in to your laptop to give it an extra boost when you need it.

Warning

Check airline rules before taking batteries or chargers on a flight. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines may only allow you to carry a maximum of two spare lithium-ion laptop batteries in carry-on baggage with a capacity of 100-160 watt-hours.

Reduce Your Power Needs

Even if you hit the flight jackpot and can power and charge your laptop, it's worth making it flight-ready before you board the plane to reduce its energy needs. If you're using power-hungry applications that exceed a power port's capacity, it might just cut out on you. Reducing your laptop's power drain is useful if you can't charge the laptop on your flight and need to conserve the juice in your battery for as long as possible. For example, you can:

  • Charge your laptop before you fly:  As well as ensuring that you can use it during the flight, this could also keep you out of trouble. Under Transportation Security Administration rules, some flights into the country may require checks on mobile devices. If you're asked to power up your laptop but it has no charge, it may be confiscated and you may have to go through extra security checks.
  • Tweak your settings: Making simple changes to your system and settings can save power during your flight.  Consider reducing screen brightness, disabling the wireless network, removing devices and switching off background processes such as automatic updates.

Tip

Some laptops, such as those running Windows 8, come with Power Plans that can help reduce your laptop's power needs and an Airplane Mode that disables all automatic connections that might eat into your charge.