In-Flight Gadget Do's and Don'ts

Business travelers have a lot to remember when flying. Things like: Don't wear lace-up shoes; don't forget to pack a snack; and don't blather incessantly to the stranger seated next to you (particularly if that stranger is me).

So please forgive me for adding five more things to remember to your list. But if you keep the following tips in mind, your next trip--with laptop, cell phone, or other portable devices in tow--should be safer, more comfortable, and less stressful.

1. Don't Pack a Laptop in Your Checked Baggage

A checked suitcase is more vulnerable to theft, damage, and loss than a carry-on bag that stays within your control. Most importantly, airlines routinely exclude computer equipment from their liability. If something happens to your laptop, the airlines don't you owe a cent. So whenever possible, keep your laptop with you on the plane.

2. Carefully Pack Spare Lithium Ion Batteries

Lithium ion batteries frequently made headlines last year, as many laptop makers announced recalls of potentially faulty batteries that can catch fire. In fact, the recalls continue; Toshiba recently announced another one.

Reports of fire or other mishaps caused by lithium ion batteries on board aircraft are extremely rare. But there have been a few incidents, including one on a UPS cargo plane.

Placing lithium ion batteries together in a bag, without covering their contact points, can cause the batteries to spark if their contact points rub together. To be safe, always wrap spare lithium ion batteries in bubble wrap or some other protective material.

For more details and other safety tips, read "Laptop Battery Safety" and "Laptop Battery Safety, Part 2."

3. Don't Use an External Hard Drive on the Plane

Portable hard drives have shrunk in size and grown in capacity. These days, you can easily tuck 200GB of storage (or more) into your laptop bag.

But be forewarned: Some airlines, such as Delta, don't allow the use of external hard drives at any point during a flight. The external drives might cause electromagnetic interference with cockpit communications and navigation, according to a Delta spokesperson. Granted, banning external hard drives on planes is erring on the side of caution. Still, if you back up your files while in flight, use your laptop's built-in flash memory card reader or burn a CD or DVD instead.

4. Don't Forget the Headphones

From garrulous seatmates to bawling babies, a long flight can be an ordeal--particularly in coach. Always pack ear buds or headphones so you can escape the noise with tunes on your laptop or MP3 player, video on your laptop, or the airplane's in-flight entertainment.

Noise-canceling headphones, such as JVC's HA-NC250s (about $200), are more expensive than standard models but help keep outside sound from infiltrating your cocoon. You may need an airline adapter, about $10, to connect your headphones to the audio-out jack on your seat's armrest.

Consider packing a pair of silicone ear plugs, too, for those times when the plane is noisy and you just want a snooze. I use Mack's Pillow Soft Earplugs, available from most drug stores.

5. Clam Up During Beverage Service

Before a flight attendant reaches across your seatback tray to serve a drink to you or your neighbor, remove your laptop, close the lid, and hug the computer upright against your stomach. This sounds silly, I know. But about a year ago, an attendant was serving orange juice to the person next to me when someone trying to pass through the aisle bumped the attendant. Had I not already removed my laptop from my seatback tray, my computer would have been sloshed with OJ.

Further Information

How should you react if a passenger next to you starts watching objectionable content on a laptop? Find out with "Airline Passenger Code of Conduct, Part 1" and "Part 2."

Read "In-Flight Entertainment Update" for some ideas on how to pass the time.

Are you guilty of ear spray? Read "Avoid Committing Ear Spray" as well as "High-Tech Etiquette, Part 1" and "Part 2."

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

Second iPhone Battery Lawsuit Filed: According to an iPhone-related class-action lawsuit against Apple and AT&T, the two companies failed to inform early buyers that annual fees of more than $100 would be required to replace the phone's battery and maintain service. The complaint argues that the battery must be replaced after 300 charges.

Funniest iPhone Videos: Having reached instant icon status, it's not surprising that Apple's iPhone is also a target for satirists. Our sibling publication Computerworld has rounded up ten of the funniest iPhone videos on YouTube, including one that purports to provide a look at the iPhone's successor--the iRack.

A Kickstand for Your iPhone: Among the latest accessories for iPods and iPhones is's iPhone KickStand Crystal Case ($17). The case lets you prop up your iPhone either horizontally or vertically, so you can more easily watch a video. You can access all ports, buttons, and sockets when your iPhone is in the clear case, which has a removable belt clip.

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Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
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