It\’s an all-too-familiar story these days; an eager traveler, ready to take flight, gets bogged down in the morass of fellow passengers undergoing security checks. After much waiting, our flying friend is finally able to move forward, but soon unwillingly catches the attention of nearby guards due to a breach on TSA\’s strict protocol. The traveler is then forced to take his gear–expensive laptop included–out of his bags, becomes subject to a more intense search, and gets back in line again. It\’s a nightmare.
It\’s something just about everyone wants to avoid if possible; especially with the upcoming holidays, when plenty of tech-savvy travelers will be flying all around world. To help travelers avoid the usual pitfalls of this busy season–and keep their tech safe in the process–we\’ve compiled a few helpful tips to keep in mind when dealing with America\’s airport defense.
Understand Why Some Tech Is Checked
Without a doubt, the number one concern in all of this is passenger safety. We still live in a post-9/11 world, so the thoroughness with which the TSA conducts their inspections remains at a high level. But we also live in an increasingly impatient world, one spoiled by Google searches, dual-band Wi-Fi, and smartphones. As such, being forced to remove something as seemingly harmless as a laptop strikes many as unnecessary.
According to the TSA, though, it\’s all just part of the protocol. As its blog notes, removing larger objects from passengers\’ bags helps the TSA \”get a better look at them,\” and also assists them in fully inspecting all of their components. The agency claims items have been hidden in laptops before– understandable, considering people have hidden illegal items in far more intimate places–and that part of their search involves checking for any electronics that may have been tampered with.
This all sounds reasonable. However, greater confusion arises when finding out that the agency forces travelers to remove all 13-inch laptops, but does not care about 11-inch ones, netbooks, or tablets. The TSA maintains that the policy is just part of its \”general guidelines,\” but that hasn\’t stopped laptop removal from being a headache to passengers everywhere. But explained or not, the rules of the skies have to be adhered to.
Buy a \”Checkpoint Friendly\” Laptop Case
Thankfully, the TSA at least acknowledges how much of an annoyance security checks can be to the traveling public. To help ease the pain, the TSA has provided laptop case manufacturers with guidelines to design more \”checkpoint friendly\” bags. Unlike most traditional backpacks or accordion-style briefcases, these cases clearly compartmentalize all items with designated spots inside the bag. With neat layouts and reduced clutter, these bags make the TSA\’s X-ray inspections much easier to facilitate, which in turn helps move travelers through those pesky lines.
Generally speaking, there are three accepted designs that can be considered \”checkpoint friendly.\” First, butterfly style bags like the Eagle Creek Heritage Checkpoint Backpack open up to have two compartments–one for the laptop alone, and one for any other items you\’d like to cleanly store in the case.
Secondly, trifold bags like the Korchmar Z1162 are typically the most expensive of the bunch. They attempt to make up for that by opening up into three sections, one for the laptop, and two for all your other items.
Last up are simple laptop sleeves like the Case Logic ENS-15, which usually do nothing more than hold a notebook in its own tightly dedicated case. They do not offer as much protection as their bigger counterparts, but they can often be had on the cheap.
Now, those aren\’t the only kinds of \”checkpoint friendly\” laptop cases out there, but they do follow the TSA\’s guidelines the closest. There have been hundreds upon hundreds of these new laptop cases produced over the past few years, but picking one is going to be a matter of personal preference and how much one is willing to spend on a case designed especially for airport scenarios.
Be warned, very few of these cases are what one would consider \”stylish.\” But for frequently flying techies that hate the wait, going \”checkpoint friendly\” just might be a must.
Use Your Smartphone
TSA-related tech does not begin and end with laptops though, as there are a few smartphone apps that will help travelers stay informed about what they will be dealing with upon entering the airport. The most useful of these is, not surprisingly, the TSA\’s own official app, My TSA.
This app does a solid job cutting through all the confusion surrounding the agency\’s often malleable rules and regulations, allowing confused travelers to figure out what items they can and cannot bring onto a plane using the app\’s \”Can I Bring?\” feature. This means that no smartphone owner should have any excuse when they try bringing that extra-large tube of toothpaste onboard next time.
Beyond that, My TSA also provides FAA-delivered information on flight delays and cancellations; security wait times; a nifty guide for how to make your airport security experience a smooth one; weather reports; and a few videos courtesy of the agency itself. It may not be the most spectacular or fully-featured app out there, but My TSA could certainly prove useful for both veteran and newbie flyers.
Know Your Rights
The list of airport security-related utilities is pretty thin after My TSA, but there is a notable app called FlyRights that has recently been receiving praise from media outlets, social justice activists, and common passengers alike. FlyRights lets users file a complaint against airport security if they feel unfairly profiled or discriminated against, or if they feel as though the TSA went too far in giving them an \”enhanced security check.\”
Downloadable for free from both the App Store and the Google Play store, FlyRights encourages a greater understanding of the TSA\’s ways and how they relate to passengers by providing a full list of the agency\’s rules, regulations, and screening policies. FlyRights is very much useful in this regard, as it does everything it can to foster an airline culture of understanding and equality between both the airline and the passengers.
Above all else, it\’s necessary to remember that the TSA was designed to protect passengers from potential disasters. Their job takes time, and, as annoying as this may be, there\’s usually nothing you can do when they want to inspect pieces of property, tech included. Travelers can create an easier flight experience with the gear mentioned above, but it is always important to remember that their individual needs are insignificant when compared to the safety of the whole.
That being said, a compliant and well-prepared passenger will almost always get through the hustle and bustle of the airport without too much of a hitch. So next time the skies are calling, keep these tips in mind.