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.

Security Rules

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.

Checkpoint-Friendly Bags

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.

International Travel

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.

In-Flight Rules

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.