8 Laptop Bags That Zip Through Airport Security
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.
Aerovation Checkpoint Friendly Laptop Bag
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.
CODi Phantom CT3
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 ScanFast Backpack
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 Wheeled Checkpoint Friendly CompuBrief
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.
Skooba Design Checkthrough
Set for delivery in October, the Skooba Design Checkthrough ($139.95) is a functional black briefcase with a zippered double-compartment design. The laptop compartment has a clear window on the inside that lets the screener see the computer, which will hopefully make it less likely that you'll ever be required to take it out for screening. On the other side, you'll find loads of pockets and organizers, about 20 in total, including a drop-down workstation area with a file compartment.
The bag will fold back into place when you pick it up by the handle, so you can zip it again at your leisure.
Although it's designed to hold 15-in. laptops, the vendor claims that many 16- and compact 17-in. models will also fit. Overall dimensions are 17 by 13 by 7.5 inches; it weighs 3 lbs. and is made of 1680D ballistic nylon with a nylon interior.
Skooba also makes a line of checkpoint-friendly laptop sleeves.
Solo CheckFast Laptop Clamshell
Solo's CheckFast Laptop Clamshell is so new that when this was being written, it wasn't even up on the company's Web site; it's slated to be available in November.
Constructed of ballistic polyester, it's also the least expensive bag in our lineup by far -- at $49.99 it's half the price of the Targus and Mobile Edge bags. It has a very space-efficient slim clamshell design that holds your laptop in padded safety on one side, yet has enough pockets on the other for the usual assortment of accessories. At 15.5 by 11.5 by 4 inches, it's the ideal nonbulky laptop bag, and looks good too, with a trim black exterior and gray interior.
The CheckFast holds laptops with up to 15.4-in. displays, and has a mesh window on the interior of the padded laptop side for visual screening. Solo also makes checkpoint-friendly laptop sleeves and will offer a Netbook Mini Instant-Messenger bag that holds an 11-in. mininotebook.
Targus Zip-Thru 15.4" Corporate Traveler Laptop Case
Targus' Zip-Thru bag ($99.99) won't be available until October, but shares many features with other popular Targus bags, such as the adjustable air cushioning system around the notebook compartment that helps prevent drop damage. It has a split design that unzips to lie flat, and an interior workstation panel equipped with a business card holder, pen loops, file section and accessory compartments.
Made of 1680 black ballistic Denier nylon, the Zip-Thru holds laptops up to 15.4 inches (it offers adjustable cushions inside of the case to protect your laptop and provide a snug fit for smaller laptops), and has overall dimensions of 17 by 14 by 6.5 inches and weighs 3.74 lbs.
Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer Briefcase
At $220, the Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer Briefcase is one of the most expensive bags in our list but also our favorite, thanks to its good looks, expert pocketry, and three hinged compartments that fold up into a compact case. It should fit even in the smaller overhead bins in commuter planes, yet still hold all your gear handily. It expands to 18.5 by 12.5 by 7.5 inches, and holds a full 1375 cubic inches, not including your laptop. Yet it weighs only 2.6 lbs., one of the lightest cases we surveyed.
The bag has more than 10 pockets, is durably constructed of 1050D ballistic nylon and 500D Cordura, and is lined with Dyneema/nylon ripstop. The detachable laptop compartment has high-density molded foam protection, comes in three sizes for 13-, 15- and 17-in. notebooks, and doubles as a laptop sleeve, complete with handles.