Having your laptop on hand for a long flight or an extended layover can help pass the time, or help you stay productive by getting work done. But taking your computer through airport security is often a hassle, especially if you are unsure of the rules. Luckily, the Transportation Security Administration has outlined very clear instructions for carry-on computers; once you're aware of these, your trip through security will go more smoothly.
Never pack a laptop inside checked baggage. Baggage handlers are trained to toss bags from a luggage caonrt to a conveyor belt, an activity not designed for the delicate workings of a computer. Pack your laptop in a padded, carry-on bag. However if you're in a bind, 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.
When taking your laptop through airport security, you must either have it in a so-called "checkpoint-friendly" bag, or you'll need to remove it from your luggage entirely. If you need to remove it, place it in a scanning bin by itself to go through the X-ray machine. If airport security subjects your computer to additional scrutiny, they may instruct you to turn it on and will ask questions about its use. If you do not adequately answer the questions, security retains the right to confiscate the item.
Rules for Spare Batteries
The TSA isn't the only government entity that has rules about laptops – or, at least, their batteries. The Federal Aviation Administration requires that any spare lithium ion and lithium metal batteries go in your carry-on luggage, not into checked bags. That's the sort of spare battery you might carry around for your laptop; the same rule applies to rechargeable power banks.
You can speed up your trip through airport security with a checkpoint-friendly laptop bag, which allows you to keep your laptop in the bag as it goes through security. These bags have laptop-only compartments that allow the scanner to scan the laptop without interference from snaps or zippers, other pockets or additional items. The bags come in several versions, such as butterfly, tri-fold and sleeve. The TSA does not endorse any particular manufacturer; brands like Skooba, Case Logic and Samsonite make laptop bags that are labeled as checkpoint friendly.
Want to avoid having to remove your laptop?
If you're a frequent flier, consider joining TSA Precheck for a quicker, easier checkpoint experience. Precheck members are screened through their own line and don't have to remove their shoes, laptop, 3-1-1 liquids bag, belts or light jackets. It costs $85 every five years, and you must go through a ten-minute, in-person background check at a TSA office after applying online. After that, you and your laptop will be breezing through security in much quicker fashion.
If you take a laptop abroad, your computer may be subject to additional screening when you return to the United States. U.S. Customs officials may ask to see proof that you purchased the laptop in the country, or the machine may be subject to a duty fee. You can speed your trip through customs by having original documentation of the purchase on hand and having your laptop ready to show.
When you are on the airplane, you must heed the airline's rules for electronic device use. Most airlines restrict the use of laptops and other electronics when the plane is taking off and landing. The flight crew will let you know when it is safe to turn your computer on. Some planes have wireless Internet, though many charge a fee for its use. And most seats do not have power outlets, so be sure to charge your computer before you get on the plane.
Get the Most Out of Your Laptop in Flight
So you got your laptop through the screening checkpoint – great. Make the most of it, and of your wait before boarding the plane, by charging the battery beforehand and preloading it with downloaded Netflix movies, audiobooks, ebooks, Spotify music and the like. If you have the option, book an airline seat with a power plug-in so you can keep your battery charged during the flight. Otherwise, you can make your battery last longer by quitting power-hungry apps and dimming the screen.
A wrench in the works
On March 21, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security announced a ban on all carry-on personal electronic devices larger than a cell phone for U.S. flights originating from certain Middle Eastern countries. This restriction applies only to inbound international flights from certain airports in the Middle East and does not impact domestic travel or outgoing flights from the U.S. You need to worry about this only if you're traveling into the U.S. from one of the ten airports listed by the DHS.
Never leave your laptop unattended; do not place it on the floor in the restroom or at the ticket counter. The safest policy is to keep the laptop's strap over your shoulder at all times while in the airport. Laptop thefts are common at airports, so keep an eye on your computer at all times.