Airport Security Shifts Laptop Rules

Travelers irked when forced to unpack notebook computers at airport screening stations will get some relief later this month as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) begins letting people with designated "checkpoint friendly" bags leave the hardware inside.

The new rules, which take effect Aug. 16, allow notebooks to pass through X-ray screening while still in a bag as long as the case meets agency guidelines.

A "checkpoint friendly" case must have a designated laptop-only section that completely unfolds to lay flat on the X-ray screening conveyor belt, the TSA said. The bag cannot contain metal snaps, zippers or buckles inside, underneath or on top of that laptop section; nor can it sport pockets on the inside or outside of the laptop-only part of the case.

"We put the challenge out there and bag manufacturers overwhelming responded with innovative products that provide a win-win for travelers and TSA," said Kip Hawley, the agency's chief, in a statement Tuesday. Some 60 manufacturers expressed interest in the guidelines unveiled several months ago, and 40 tested prototypes at one of three airports the government agency designated last month.

Although the TSA said some current bags meet its criteria, particularly sleeve-like carrying cases that lack pockets or zippers, most will be new products. Some will be available by the middle of the month, the agency added.

Several bag and case makers have been touting "checkpoint friendly" models, including Targus Group International Inc., which will sell its Zip-Thru bag for US$99.99, and Skooba Design, which has a line it's dubbed Checkthrough in the works.

Even with a bag that meets the TSA's guidelines, however, nothing is guaranteed. At the bottom of an informational page on the TSA site, it reveals the fine print: "Given TSA's use of random screening protocols, TSA reserves the right to re-screen any bag or laptop regardless of the design of the bag."

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