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September 04, 2008

Easing Your Laptop Through Airport Screening

WaterField Designs' laptop sleeve.

by Sara Tucker

A few weeks ago, I watched helplessly as the gray plastic bin carrying my laptop past TSA screeners was knocked clear off the conveyor belt by a passenger. I was being held prisoner at the time, pulled over for wanding. "Sorry," the woman muttered as she scooped up my laptop, threw it back in the bin, slammed the bin back on the belt, and ran off to catch her flight.

But wait, there's more: Three weeks later, the same thing happened to me again! This time, however, somebody managed to catch my laptop on the way down, and a sympathetic (yes, they exist) TSA agent informed me that I am now allowed to keep it in a protective "gel pack" while it goes through screening. I was already on the plane before I thought to ask what a gel pack is.

What I do know is this: The TSA has recently relaxed its procedures enough to allow laptops to remain tucked safely inside certain types of bags through the airport screening process.

I want one of those bags.

I've spent the past two days looking for one. The possibilities are many. Naturally, the luggage industry has been scrambling to come up with "checkpoint-friendly" options in response to the TSA decision. Most of them won't be available until later this month at the earliest, although you can usually preorder them by calling an 800 number.

The cases come in all shapes and sizes. There's a simple "adjustable laptop protector" ($25) from Travelon, a ScanFast Messenger bag ($100) from Mobile Edge, a rolling briefcase ($150) from Pathfinder, and a plump briefcase called the Checkpoint Flyer from Tom Bihn, to name a few.

The one I've got my eye on is WaterField Designs' laptop sleeve. You see, I don't really want another bag. I like to stuff my laptop into my giant purse. WaterField Designs makes its sleeves (and other cool cases) in a San Francisco sewing shop out of high-grade neoprene covered in ballistic nylon--the same fabric once used to make bulletproof vests. The company doesn't advertise its products as checkpoint-friendly per se, but a spokeswoman said they fit the TSA requirements. That's good enough for me, especially since the TSA isn't issuing a stamp of approval and therefore no bag is guaranteed a friendly response every time it meets a screener. When I told her my tale of woe, the WaterField rep assured me a sleeve would help protect my laptop from future spills. "We've heard stories of laptops falling off cars" and coming through unscathed, she said. The sleeve that fits my laptop (they come in 50 precise sizes) costs only $40, plus shipping. And it's available now.

Of course, there's always insurance.

By the way, my laptop survived its landing on the floor of the Burlington International Airport, though it took a long, long time to reboot. And I still don't know what a gel pack is.

Further reading:
* Where to find a checkpoint-friendly bag


I've got a bag and several cases from Waterfield. Their quality is unbelievable. Nice company too. I recommend them to all my traveling colleagues.

Ditto. Great company, especially for travel/digital gear bags and laptop bags.

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The editors at Conde Nast Traveler answer questions and share travel secrets, tips, and dispatches

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