15 problems with the MacBook Air, and how to fix them

Macbook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Having troubles with your MacBook Air? It doesn’t matter if you have an older version or the latest, most ephemeral Air model — sometimes things go wrong with this ultra-light laptop. This guide will help you make things right again. Check out the list below for common problems that Air users have experienced and how to fix them, or go to the next page to view them all in order.

Problem: I can’t turn my MacBook Air on

Solution:

  • First, check to see if your whole Mac has turned off, or just the screen. Is it still making noise? Does the Caps Lock key still light up? Does pushing the Power Button making a chiming noise? Then the issue is probably with your screen, and you should skip to the next problem on our list.
  • If your MacBook is truly off and refuses to turn on, then check for any power problems. Cover the basics first. Is your battery charged? Does your laptop work when the power cord is plugged in? Does a different power cord work? This indicates a problem with your battery or power cord. You should also disconnect everything (including your mouse, mobile devices, etc.) from your MacBook and see if that helps fix the problem.
  • Reset your MacBook. You can reset simply by holding down the power button for at least ten seconds. Then push the power button again as you would normally to see if your Mac turns back on.
  • Sometimes an important new upgrade like new memory can freeze your MacBook in permanent “uh-oh” mode. This is rare for the Air, which is built with a very compact design and resists most modding attempts. However, if you have added memory or other capabilities via external or internal work, note that removing upgrades may solve your problem.

Problem: My screen isn’t working

Solution:

  • If your screen is blank but your laptop appears to be working, try a hard reset to get back your video. Hold down the power button for at least ten seconds, then release it. Afterward, press the power button once as you normally would to turn your MacBook back on.
  • If you are having problems with an external screen, try to update your MacBook with any external devices attached. With the cables in, go to the Dock or the Apple Menu in your upper left corner and select App Store. Once the App Store has opened, click on the Updates button and install any updates you see for firmware, MacOS, or other related MacBook operations.
  • Make sure that any second screen adapters you are using are from Apple. The MacBook Air doesn’t always play well with third party devices.

Problem: My MacBook Air’s battery won’t charge anymore

Solution:

  • The problem could be with your adapter and charging cable. If you have a MagSafe charger, L-style and T-style adapters can work on the same computer, but MagSafe 2 connectors can’t work with those computers. However, L or T adapters can be used on MagSafe 2 ports, as long as you use an extra adapter to connect them. Apple has a visual guide if that was all very, very confusing.
  • If you are using the right cable on the right MacBook Air, make sure that there is no damage to the adapter cable or the port. Try switching electrical outlets to make sure you are getting power. You should show also try unplugging your adapter for a minute, then plugging it back in again. If it magically starts charging after this break, then you have a lot of line noise in your electrical system. Try turning off some appliances to see if this improves the problem.

Problem: My battery is draining too quickly

Solution:

  • Start by checking for updates on your Mac. Go to the Apple Menu and choose App Store. Visit the Updates tab, and apply all updates. Then restart your computer by going to the Apple Menu and choosing Restart. See if this makes a difference.
  • Check out your apps. If you click the battery icon in MacOS, you will see a list of applications that are currently using a great deal of power. You may find that an app constantly appears on the list. If so, shutting it down should help.
  • Reset your SMC (older MacBook Air devices). This may be particularly necessary if you recently downloaded an SMC (System Management Controller) update. Start by heading over to the Apple Menu and choosing to shut down the computer. Once your Mac has shut down, press and hold the left-side Shift key, the Control key, the Option key, and the power button simultaneously for 10 seconds, then release. Now press the power button again.
  • Reset your SMC (2018 MacBook Air or later). If your MacBook Air is from 2018 or later, it’ll have a T2 Security Chip. That makes the process of resetting the SMC a little different. First, shut down your Mac as in the previous step. Unplug your power cord and wait 15 seconds, then plug it back in. Wait another five seconds, then turn your MacBook Air back on.

Problem: I think my Macbook Air is overheating

Solution:

  • Look for any hidden or unexpected apps by visiting the Activity Monitor. This tool can be found by clicking Go > Utilities in the menu bar. The first tab is CPU, which will show you how much CPU time and energy each open app is taking up. If anything strange is using a lot of your CPU percentage, shut it down by clicking its name, then clicking the Stop button in the top-left corner of the app (it’s a cross inside an octagon, next to the i button).
  • If everything else fails, see if you can hear or see anything wrong with your fans. In addition to a physical check, it’s a good idea to run Apple Diagnostics (this works with newer Air computers). First, disconnect any devices except your keyboard, mouse, display, Ethernet connection (if applicable), and connection to AC power. Head over to the Apple Menu and choose Shut Down. Once your Air is fully shut down, press the power button to start back up again, but then immediately press and hold the D key. Do this until the Apple Diagnostics check begins. This will include a progress bar and eventually a report. If the report finds an error, carefully read what it says and write down any error codes and instructions. Then click Restart to get back to MacOS.

Problem: I don’t have any sound on my MacBook Air

Solution:

  • As with many problems, sometimes a full update can help solve the problem, especially if MacOS itself needs an update. Head to your Apple Menu and select App Store, then click the Updates tab and apply any available updates.
  • You can also try resetting your PRAM/NVRAM, which affect your basic MacBook settings. Go to the Apple Menu and choose Shut Down. Then push the power button to start again: Immediately press the Command, Option, P and R keys at the same time. Hold down these keys for about 20 seconds; your MacBook Air may restart during this time. If your Mac normally plays a startup chime, you can release the keys once it sounds a second time. If your MacBook Air has a T2 Security Chip, you can release the keys once the Apple logo has appeared and disappeared for a second time. FYI, this process will typically remove any customized login settings you have set up.
  • If you have an earlier MacBook Air (from early 2010 or before), we suggest taking your laptop to an Apple Store. In the first Air models, hinge problems could cause serious sound malfunctions. This can be repaired by technicians, but it may take some pricey replacements.

Problem: My trackpad isn’t working properly

Solution:

  • If you don’t use a mouse or are forced to use the trackpad out of necessity, you may have experienced an issue where it stops working or acts strangely, jumping around like it doesn’t know where your fingers are. You should first try cleaning and drying the trackpad to see if that helps. Moisture, grime, and dust can confuse it.
  • Sometimes resetting your PRAM can help with trackpad issues (this also restarts your MacBook, which is another potential solution, so you can get two birds with one stone). Follow our instructions in the step above to see if resetting your PRAM helps.
  • In addition to a physical check, it’s a good idea to run Apple Diagnostics (this works with newer Air computers). Head over to the Apple Menu and choose Shut Down. Once your Air is fully shut down, press the power button to start back up again, but then immediately press and hold the D key. Do this until the Apple Diagnostics check begins. This will include a progress bar and eventually a report: If the report finds an error, carefully read what it says and write down any error codes and instructions. Then click Restart to get back to MacOS.

Problem: An app has frozen

Solution:

  • If you can restart the app that you are working in, this may be able to solve the problem. If the app is completely unresponsive, find it in your Dock and right click on the icon to bring up the “Force Quit” option, which should be able to shut it down (if you only see Quit, hold the Option key and Quit should change to Force Quit). Restart and see if this fixes the problem.
  • If the app continues to freeze on you, check for an update. Go to the Apple Menu, choose the App Store, and head over to the Updates section to see all available updates. Choose to install any updates related to the app.
  • When in doubt, you can always choose to shut down your MacBook entirely — one of your best options if the entire computer has frozen up. Hold the power button down for 10 seconds and then release it to force a shut down.
  • If you have recently updated MacOS, the app may no longer cooperate with the new version of your operating system. If this is the case, you may need to want for a patch to come out in a future update.

Problem: I can’t use AirPrint

Solution:

  • AirPrint can be tricky to use because it depends on third party devices, which may not always cooperate. Your first step should be updating your MacBook to make sure you have all the latest versions of software. Head over to the Apple Menu, choose the App Store, and click the Updates section to update your apps.
  • Look up your exact printer model online, preferably on the manufacturer’s website. If there are any firmware updates or warnings about AirPrint, you can find them there. Download and update as necessary. Remember that not all printers are compatible with AirPrint, even if they have wireless capabilities.
  • Printers need to be connected directly — wirelessly — to AirPrint. If they are connected to an AirPort device instead, for example, that doesn’t mean they can automatically use AirPrint.
  • If nothing else works, turn off your router, printer, and MacBook, then turn them all back on again, one at a time. It may be old-fashioned, but the old “turn it off, then on again,” solution can still work.

Problem: I don’t think my USB port is working anymore

Solution:

  • First, do some basic hardware testing. Try switching to another USB device to see if it’s the port or the device. Try using your other USB port to see if it’s just one port or all of them. If only one port is misbehaving, there’s a good chance that there is some physical damage. Check to see if the port is loose, bent or otherwise damaged. If something is wrong with the port, take it to an Apple Store for a quick replacement.
  • If all your ports are malfunctioning, try resetting your Mac SMC. If you have an older MacBook Air that lacks a T2 Security Chip, start by heading over to the Apple Menu and choosing to shut down the computer. Once your Mac has shut down, press and hold the left-side Shift key, the Control key, the Option key, and the power button simultaneously for 10 seconds, then release. Now press the power button again.
  • If your MacBook Air is from 2018 or later, it’ll have a T2 Security Chip. That makes the process of resetting the SMC a little different. First, shut down your Mac as in the previous step. Unplug your power cord and wait 15 seconds, then plug it back in. Wait another five seconds, then turn your MacBook Air back on.

Problem: My MacBook Air won’t shut down

Solution:

  • This is one of the stranger problems that can occur to MacBooks, but you may find that nothing turns the laptop off — it just sits there humming instead of shutting down. Wait for 5 to 10 minutes to make sure that it really has a problem, then take a cursory look around MacOS. Are there any warning signs, alerts, or active apps that need to be taken care of before you can shut down? Look for subtle signs too, like bouncing apps in the Dock, that show something is happening behind the scenes.
  • If you have any apps open, check to see if they have become frozen. You can right-click on an app icon and choose to Force Quit to end the app and see if this restores functionality (if you only see Quit, press and hold the Option key and it should change to Force Quit).
  • If nothing is working, then you can force a total shutdown. Hold down your power button for at least 10 seconds to make your MacBook turn off. Note that this can be dangerous if your MacBook is trying to update, so make absolutely sure that everything is stuck and your MacBook isn’t just taking some personal update time.

Problem: My Wi-Fi has stopped working

Solution:

  • Wi-Fi problems are common but notoriously hard to diagnose. While you’ve probably heard it before, we suggest you start by turning your router and computer off, then back on again, to reset your network and see if that helps.
  • You should also download any updates for your MacBook to see if this makes your Wi-Fi smooth again. Head over to the Apple Menu and choose App Store, then click the Updates tab to download any important MacOS upgrades.
  • If you have a dual-band router, try connecting to the 5GHz band. This band has a shorter range but is usually freer of interference, and can help fix problems with spotty Wi-Fi. If you have a different name for your 5GHz band, you will be able to find it by clicking the Wi-Fi icon in the upper right of your MacOS screen.

Problem: FaceTime isn’t working

Solution:

  • You should start by checking all your FaceTime settings. In the app, click FaceTime in the menu bar, then click Preferences and see if FaceTime is verified or if it is “waiting for activation.” If it’s waiting, that means you may have gotten a new computer or email, and need to verify FaceTime through your email to proceed.
  • You should also check other basic info in Preferences, such as the your phone number, location, and any other pertinent information.
  • This is also a good time to try updating and restarting. Head over to the Apple Menu and go to App Store, then click the Updates tab to look for any available MacOS updates. When completed, choose Restart in the same menu.

Problem: I’m seeing a lot of user interface lag

Solution:

  • You may experience UI lag in your MacBook Air — animations and graphics that get choppy when they start opening apps or resizing windows, etc. A restart may fix the problem.
  • You should also make sure that any updates have been applied. You can always look for more updates by going to the Apple Menu and selecting App Store, then clicking the Updates tab.

Problem: Apps are crashing frequently

Solution:

  • First, check for any app updates by heading to the Apple Menu, going to the App Store, and looking in the Updates tab.
  • If there are no updates, try un-installing the app and re-installing it via the App Store. See if the fresh version operates more reliably.
  • If your Air feels very hot and has been working hard for a while, it could be overheating. Cut down on the number of apps running at the same time, and turn off your laptop to let it cool for half an hour or so.

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