How to Pack a Laptop for Flight
Priceless photos, bank account log-ins, work files, that half-finished novel you're going to publish someday: Your laptop is like a virtual safe for all your most important things. So for most people, losing or damaging a laptop would be devastating. During a flight, the best place for your laptop is in carry-on luggage. Not only can you access it and protect it from theft during the trip, but carry-on bags also sustain less jostling than checked bags. Provided you pack your device appropriately, it should survive the trip without damage.
Packing a Laptop in a Carry-On Bag
Never toss a laptop into a bag without some sort of protective covering. It has to come out out of your carry-on bag and be stuffed back in after going through the security checkpoint, and be wrestled into an overhead compartment or under a seat. If another passenger shoves your bag aside to make room or something spills on your carry-on, a case or sleeve helps shield the device.
Choose a checkpoint-friendly sleeve or case that conforms to the TSA's guidelines. Travelers who pack their laptops in these compliant cases don't have to remove their computers from the cases during the security screening process. To be checkpoint friendly, the part of the case that holds the laptop must be able to lay flat on the X-ray belt. That part of the case must also have no metal zippers or snaps and have no interior or exterior pockets. Look for a case or sleeve that has some padding inside to cushion the laptop.
Once the laptop is stowed inside its case or sleeve, pack it near the opening of the carry-on bag so it's easy to remove at the security checkpoint. (Once you pass through security, you can rearrange your carry-on bag so the laptop is cushioned in the middle of your belongings.) Although the computer can stay in its case, most travelers do need to pull their laptop cases out of their carry-ons so they can be screened separately. However, travelers who are part of TSA's PreCheck program do not need to remove their laptops for screening.
Wrap the cord around the laptop's charger, and place it in a plastic bag to contain it. It's not necessary to remove the charger from your bag during the security screening.
Packing a Laptop in Checked Luggage
For travelers who want to check their laptops, a trip to a shipping store (like FedEx or UPS) may be in order. These retailers sell boxes that are specially designed to protect laptops during shipping. Of course, packing a computer in a box does require more suitcase space. If you don't have it to spare, pack the laptop in a case or sleeve – ideally one that's checkpoint-friendly, in case you decide to pack it in your carry-on for the trip home – and wrap it in bubble wrap or a few layers of soft clothing. Tuck the laptop into the middle of the suitcase, cushioned on all sides by more clothing. Pack the charger inside a compartment of the laptop case or separately in a plastic bag.
It's unlikely that a baggage checker will remove your laptop and access the information on it, but it's still wise to protect the device with a password and wipe any sensitive files before packing it. Taking this extra step should give you peace of mind as you travel.