While no one questions the need to properly scan laptops when going through airport security, the requirement to remove them from their protective cases is a different story. "Naked" notebooks can easily get dropped, damaged, forgotten and even stolen outright. One study done for Dell estimated that about 12,000 laptops are lost in U.S. airports every week -- a claim that has been challenged by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Whatever the numbers are, you don't want your machine, with all its precious data, to become a statistic.
Happily, the TSA has recognized these issues, and began working with case manufacturers in March on a standard for checkpoint-friendly laptop bags that can pass through the security scanners without your having to remove your notebook.
Several cases meeting the spec have already hit the market, and many more are due soon. They have been allowed at checkpoints since late August.
So what makes a checkpoint-friendly laptop bag? The TSA has five official criteria:
- A designated laptop-only section.
- A laptop-only section that completely unfolds to lay flat on the X-ray conveyor belt.
- No metal snaps, zippers or buckles inside, underneath or on top of the laptop-only section.
- No pockets on the inside or outside of the laptop-only section.
- Nothing packed in the laptop-only section other than the computer itself.
To meet these requirements, case makers have come up with three basic bag designs: zippered clamshells that open flat with your laptop on one side and everything else on the other; double- or triple-compartment bags that unfold and lie flat like a garment bag, again with the laptop on one side; and simple notebook sleeves that either fit into a larger bag (in which case you'll need to take the sleeve out for scanning) or are carried alone. Many existing sleeves meet these criteria, as long as they don't have pockets or metal parts on the sides.
Here are eight of the latest full-featured TSA-approved cases with pockets and compartments that hold everything from your power adapter and accessories to a change of clothes. They'll help speed up the line and look good doing it.
The Aerovation ($129.95) was the first checkpoint-friendly bag on the market, available back in June. It is a clean-lined double-compartment bag made of rugged 1680D nylon fabric and a sateen liner, with 4mm of EVA foam padding in between. The accessory compartment is, according to the manufacturer, "designed to give the traveler access to files, pens, cell phone and media. There's also enough room for a change of underwear and toiletries." This no-nonsense bag measures 15 by 12 by 4 inches, has both inside and outside pockets, and holds laptops with displays up to 15.4 inches. (There is also a version for laptops up to 17 inches.)
Aerovation also offers a Checkpoint Friendly Laptop Sleeve for $24.95, which, according to the manufacturer's site, "is made of the same material as a diver's wet suit." So if you accidentally drop your laptop out the plane over the Atlantic, it should be OK.
At $225, the CODi CT3 is the most expensive bag in this roundup. For the premium price tag, you get superior construction and materials, such as military-grade black ballistic nylon. Two hinged compartments open to lie flat and instantly close themselves when picked up by the handle -- thanks to Velcro in between the compartments, an ingenious touch.
The accessory side of the bag includes a file section, three pen pockets, four elasticized pockets and two business/credit card pockets. The padded laptop side holds notebooks with displays up to 15.4 inches. Overall, the case is 16.5 by 6.25 by 12.25 inches and 2.5 lbs.
According to the company, a wheeled version should be available soon.
Mobile Edge has a trio of checkpoint-friendly bags. The briefcase and messenger bag both hold laptops with displays up to 15.4 inches, cost $99.99. Most notable, however, is the ScanFast Backpack, also $99.99, the only such model we found. It holds notebooks with up to 17-in. displays and unzips to open flat for security. The padded notebook compartment is in the back, while the front half has several zippered pockets to organize your gear and reading materials. Overall dimensions are 19 by 14 by 7 inches.
Style-wise, all three are your basic black and nothing-to-write-home-about, but are constructed of durable 840D ballistic nylon.
Pathfinder's two CompuBrief cases are both pretty generic looking in the usual basic black 1680D ballistic nylon. However, its Wheeled Checkpoint Friendly CompuBrief ($149) is the only current option we found for those who prefer wheeled laptop bags. It holds notebooks with up to a 15.4-in. display and features an aircraft-grade aluminum handle and ball-bearing polyurethane wheels. It unzips to lie flat on the security belt. The Wheeled Checkpoint Friendly CompuBrief is 14 by 8 by 17 inches and weighs 7 lbs.
Both the wheeled and unwheeled ($99) versions offer rugged construction with "unbreakable" zipper pulls, multiple compartments and pockets both inside and out.