Checkpoint-Friendly Laptop Bags

New bags promise to make it easier and safer to get your computer through airport security.

Some words seem destined to go together, like "Marco" and "Polo," "Uma" and "Oprah," "rock" and "lobster." Until recently, however, I would never have thought to conjoin the words "checkpoint" and "friendly." But these days, the two seemingly disparate words are locked in a brazen embrace, showing up all over the media and the Internet, in relation to new laptop bags.

Checkpoint-friendly laptop bags promise to make running the airport security gauntlet a bit easier for travelers with laptops. But should you set aside your perfectly good laptop bag and buy one of these new models? Read on.

The Back Story

In early March, the US Transportation Security Administration invited bag makers to come up with "checkpoint-friendly" laptop case designs. The bags would enable the flying public to pass through airport security checkpoints without having to remove their laptops from their bags.

So what makes a laptop bag "checkpoint friendly"? According to a TSA blog, such bags should have the following characteristics:

  • A designated laptop-only section that unfolds and can lay completely flat on the X-ray conveyor belt.
  • An unobstructed view of the laptop in its dedicated compartment (or sleeve), with no metal snaps, zippers, pockets, emblems, or seals under or on top of the compartment.
  • No thick dividers within the bag.
  • It should be no more than 30 inches in length when fully opened, in order to allow X-ray machines to display the bag's contents in one image. (Longer bags may require multiple images, which slows the TSA officer's ability to view the bag's contents).
  • It should provide easy access to the laptop, should the TSA officer need to remove it for further inspection.

Who's Got the Bag

TSA says 40 bag manufacturers submitted prototypes for TSA testing. First to market is a US$130 bag from Aerovation. Aerovation is a two-person business based in Ohio and owned by Ben Bosma, an engineer and former Air Force test pilot, and his wife, Ginny.

Before Aerovation began selling the bag in June — at least two months before competitors — Aerovation sold hats and other accessories for pilots. Bosma says he and Ginny began designing their laptop bag immediately after the TSA reached out to bag makers in March.

Within one week, Aerovation filed for patents related to the bag, Bosma says. He drove prototypes of the bag to an airport X-ray scanner manufacturer's facilities in Toledo for testing. Aerovation has sold or given away for promotional use over 1100 checkpoint-friendly bags since early June.

Bosma's is a compelling example of an agile small business getting a head start over the big guys. But the big guys are fast on his heels. Among the products shipping soon:

Briggs & Riley announced in late July it would have the "first-ever" checkpoint-friendly laptop sleeve. The SpeedThru sleeve is to be incorporated into the company's @work and verb business cases sold after August 15. Current owners of Briggs & Riley cases can upgrade their existing laptop sleeve for $40 or buy a stand-alone SpeedThru sleeve for $90.

Skooba Design sells a checkpoint-friendly bag for $140, and laptop pouches for $25 to $35.

Mobile Edge has three checkpoint-friendly ScanFast Collection bags coming in mid-September. The backpack, messenger, and briefcase models will each retail for $100, a spokesperson says.

Targus has announced the Zip-Thru 15.4 Corporate Traveler Laptop Case, available in October for $100.

CODi has announced the Phantom CT3 Checkpoint Tested bag ($225). The company makes a wide variety of stylish bags, so this model--though a bit expensive--could be a worthy addition to the company's collection.

Tom Bihn, a Seattle-based company with some excellent products, just announced its checkpoint-friendly bag. The Checkpoint Flyer will be available in mid-September.

Should You Buy One?

In theory, checkpoint-friendly bags may help speed up the screening process a bit. More importantly, they might help protect your laptop from bumps and scratches as it makes its perilous journey from your hands to the end of the X-ray screener's conveyor belt. Perhaps checkpoint-friendly bags will also reduce confusion over whose laptop is whose or even minimize the chances of someone stealing your laptop.

TSA has been training officers around the US how to recognize and process the new bags at security checkpoints. The agency was expected to begin allowing the use of checkpoint-friendly laptop bags at airports in the US beginning August 16. Be aware that TSA will not certify or approve bags. Instead, the agency has simply published guidelines that bags should meet.

If you already have a bag you like and it's in good condition, I'd hold off for a month or so, as plenty of new checkpoint-friendly models are expected to ship this fall. If you're in the market for a new laptop bag now and you fly regularly, however, a checkpoint-friendly bag is worth considering.

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James A. Martin

PC World (US online)

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