Road Test: Checkpoint-Friendly Bags

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How much would you spend to reduce the hassle of going through an airport security checkpoint?

That's the question laptop-carrying fliers now face, since the Transportation Security Administration began allowing checkpoint-friendly computer bags as of August 16. These new bags are designed to let travelers pass through airport security checkpoints without having to remove their laptops.

During a mid-August trip from San Francisco to Boston, I had the opportunity to road-test what was reportedly the first commercially available checkpoint-friendly laptop bag. The bag that I tried, from a small company called Aerovation, lists for $130 (a leather version is $280).

I'm happy to report that Aerovation's bag helped me sail through airport security checkpoints in San Francisco and Boston without incident. If I'd used a traditional laptop bag, I would have had to remove my Apple MacBook Air, grab a plastic bucket, place the laptop in the bucket, retrieve the computer after it had been screened, and slip it back into my bag. Instead, I simply laid both compartments of the butterfly-style Aerovation bag flat on the X-ray conveyor belt, as illustrated in Aerovation's video. Then I picked up the bag after it had been X-rayed and went on my way.

One Bag, Two Compartments

The Aerovation bag consists of two separate compartments conjoined via straps and hooks. One compartment is for miscellaneous items such as pens, file folders, and accessories. It has multiple interior pockets as well as one large exterior pocket for newspapers, magazines, plane tickets and such. Most people will probably find this general-purpose compartment's capacity adequate, though I would have appreciated more space.

The second, fully detachable compartment is designed for laptops with screen sizes up to 15.4 inches. It has no pockets or nooks of any kind, so as to offer TSA screeners an unobstructed view of the laptop. This zippered, padded compartment features an interior Velcro strap to secure your computer. The strap didn't snugly fit my Air (which has a 13.3-inch screen), however. So I placed the computer in Aerovation's $25 checkpoint-friendly laptop sleeve and inserted that into the bag's laptop compartment, for extra protection.

Pros and Cons

The Aerovation bag probably saved me 1 or 2 minutes during my outbound and return trip security screenings. That's not a huge time savings, but every little bit helps. And the easier pass through security was both noticeable and appreciated.

For me, however, the biggest benefit was that I wasn't worried about my Air during the X-ray process. Normally, I'd be concerned that the laptop might get scratched or, even worse, taken by mistake or stolen. Leaving the computer in a protective bag is a plus for a worrier like me.

There were some downsides, however. The Aerovation bag lacks a strap that can be placed over the telescoping handle of a wheeled bag. By comparison, more expensive bags like the CODi Phantom CT3 Checkpoint Tested Laptop Bag ($200) and the Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer Briefcase ($220) offer such straps. The ability to easily attach a laptop bag to a wheeled bag's telescoping handle is a feature I always look for. And though the Aerovation bag appears to be reasonably well constructed, its large yellow logo won't win any style awards.

To Buy or not to Buy?

Is the Aerovation bag worth $130? It depends.

If you need a new laptop bag, you're a frequent flier, and you don't want to spend a lot of money, the answer is yes.

Whatever your needs, though, you should at least consider other options before buying the Aerovation bag:

  • Aerovation's $25 laptop sleeve, as well as most similar sleeves, will likely let your computer pass TSA inspection. You'll probably have to remove the sleeve for screening if it's packed inside a traditional bag, however. That eliminates the minor time savings you'd get from a checkpoint-friendly bag.
  • Though Aerovation's bag appears to have been first to market, others are now available or coming soon. Along with CODi and Tom Bihn, Mobile Edge, Targus, and Pathfinder also offer checkpoint-friendly bags.
  • The LapStrap ($25) attaches directly to a laptop, so you don't need a bag. The strap doesn't offer any protection to your laptop, however.

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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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