Tips for charging your iPad before flight and in the cockpit

18W iPad charger

One of the standout features of the iPad is its long battery life—a fully charged battery should last you about 9-10 hours (more like 4-6 when using a wireless accessory and when the screen is on full bright). Even though most general aviation flights rarely last that long, it’s always a good idea to charge the iPad the night before your flight and start with a full battery. In fact, running out of battery power is about the only problem we’ve had in ten years of flying with the iPad.

Using the included wall charger

18W iPad charger

Make sure you’re charging your iPad with at least a 10 or 12-watt charger.

One of the few accessories included with the iPad is a USB power adapter, which will charge the device from a wall outlet. It’s worth taking close look at the adapter and noting the specs to understand what they mean. The power output of these adapters (measured in watts) has steadily increased over the years so it can quickly get confusing.

Here’s a quick rundown of what is included with each iPad model:

5 watts (1 amp): almost all iPhones. Note that newer iPhones do not come with a wall charger anymore, just the cord.

10 watts (2.1 amps): iPad Air, Air 2, mini 2-4, iPad 2

12 watts (2.4 amps): iPad Pro 9.7″, 10.5″, 12.9″ (1st and 2nd gen), iPad Air (3rd gen), iPad mini 5, iPad 5-7

18 watts (3 amps): iPad Pro 11″ (1st and 2nd gen), iPad Pro 12.9″ (3rd and 4th gen), iPhone 11 Pro/Pro Max. Note that this power adapter uses a USB-C connector on the plug instead of the typical USB-A plug on the lower watt models.

20 watts (3 amps): iPad mini 6, iPad 8-9, iPad Air 4, iPad Pro 11″ (3rd gen), iPad Pro 12.9″ (5th gen). Also a USB-C connection.

Understanding your power adapter’s specs is important since most iPhone, iPod Touch, and other replacement USB power adapters are typically rated at 5 watts and 1 amp. The higher 2.1/2.4/3 amp charger allows the large battery in the iPad to charge more quickly than when using the traditional 1 amp adapter (it will take around 4-5 hours to charge a completely drained iPad battery).

A couple notes here:

  • You can still charge an iPad with a 5 watt/1 amp USB power adapter, but it will take longer than 5 hours to fully charge. This is really a last resort.
  • A 12/18/20 watt charger is still safe to use with your other USB devices (iPhone, iPod, etc.) and will not damage them.
  • You can even use your laptop’s higher-wattage power adapter (some are rated up to 96W) to charge your devices if needed.
  • For additional convenience when charging multiple devices on the go, consider a model with dual 3 amp charging ports.

Fast Charging Options

Wall plug

Not all chargers are created equal.

Newer Apple devices support a technology called fast charging, which is designed to charge your device up to 50% in just 30 minutes. Newer iPad Pro and iPhone models support this right out of the box with the included 18/20W USB-C power adapter. You just need one of Apple’s 18-watt (or higher) USB-C power adapters, or a third-party charger that supports USB Power Delivery, and a USB-C to lightning cable. The following devices support fast charging:

iPad Air (3rd/4th gen)
iPad mini 5-6
iPad Pro 10.5″
iPad Pro 11″ (all generations)
iPad Pro 12.9″ (all generations)

iPhone 8 and later

Charging in the airplane with a cigarette lighter adapter

Flight Gear USB charger

A dual 3-amp USB charger is an essential cockpit accessory.

You can also use a 12-24V cigarette lighter charger in your airplane to charge your iPad, and this is often the most convenient and affordable option. We carry two of these pretty much every time we fly. Pay close attention before just buying any USB charger though, as you’ll want to make sure it provides at least 2.1 amps for optimum charging. This model offers two USB ports, both rated at 3 amps, and works on both 12V and 24V electrical systems. It also has a built-in screen that displays battery voltage—a handy backup. There’s also a model with one USB-A port (the standard, larger plug) and one USB-C port (the newer style found on the latest Apple wall chargers).

Charging in the airplane with an installed USB port

If you own your airplane, you should consider a permanently installed, certified charging port. These are much more expensive than portable options, but they are also more reliable than portable devices since they don’t rely on a touchy cigarette lighter charger. We like the Stratus Power Pro from Appareo and Garmin’s GSB 15 USB Charger, which are both TSO’d and include dual 3 amp USB ports. You can choose from USB-A or USB-C plugs.

Charging from a computer

A fourth charging option is to connect your iPad to a computer that has a high-power USB  (most newer Macs and PCs have this). This will not charge as quickly as when using the wall power adapter, but can often be more convenient. If you see the note “Not Charging” in the iPad battery status, your computer most likely does not have a high-power USB port.

iPad battery backups

Battery pack

Portable battery packs are ideal for backup power in flight.

You can also charge the iPad when on the go with a portable backup battery. We like the Flight Gear models, which were designed for pilots and feature both USB-A and USB-C charging ports. There are two sizes available, the Small Flight Gear Battery Pack (10,000 mAh) and the Large Flight Gear Battery Pack (20,000 mAh). The larger size will last for multiple flights and can be recharged with a micro-USB, USB-C, or Lightning plug. It’s our electronic Swiss Army knife. These are also great for airplanes without an electrical system or a cigarette lighter plug, and they can also be useful outside the cockpit too (campers love them).

“Accessory not supported”

If you see this notification on your iPad or iPhone, it usually means the charging device isn’t putting out enough juice to charge the iOS device’s battery. If you’ve double-checked that it’s the right charging plug (and cable), try cleaning out the Lightning port on your device. Sometimes dust or other debris can interrupt the connection. Also, try restarting your device.

6 replies
  1. Jeff S
    Jeff S says:

    The higher the charging power, the greater the heating of the battery. Even with a 2A, 10W adapter, if I leave the ground on a hot sunny day with less than 50 or 60% battery level in my Mini 4, it will likely go into thermal shutdown. Since the charging rate slows way down above the 85% level, overheating can be avoided by starting out with a full or nearly full charge. ForeFlight alone usually doesn’t draw enough power to cause issues; charging from a low battery state, will.

    • Mike
      Mike says:

      Absolutely spot on. Ensure you are fully charged up before departure, and thereafter rely on battery power only.
      In my experience, charging whilst running a GPS app is guaranteed to cook an iPad. Battery power will last for all but the longest GA flights. Save charging until you are at your destination when either electric mains or a portable power storage source can be used.

  2. Sand
    Sand says:

    it’s notable the mini 6 supports higher voltages too- I don’t know which ones it uses, but certainly uses the 9 volt profile. The higher voltage available from USB-C is great for compatibility and efficiency- even if it means digging into the specs to ensure your USB-C adapter supports those different power delivery profiles.

  3. BW
    BW says:

    I accidentally plugged my 5 watt iPhone adapter into my eighth generation iPad.Didn’t notice I had done this until 1-3 hours later.I wondered whether it would hurt the battery or the adapter,but can’t find an answer.Most people ask the reverse,which is can you use an iPad adapter to charge an iPhone.Btw,I noticed the 5 watt adapter was a little warm plugged into the iPad.

    • Ella
      Ella says:

      it should only be charging slowly but shouldn’t have damaged the battery. usually, the only time it affects is the opposite of what you have done.

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