How to zip your laptop through TSA airport security

GCN Lab's Trudy Walsh usually checks her 10-pound laptop in her luggage when she flies. How has your laptop fared going through airport security?

My trusty Hewlett-Packard Pavilion zd7000 laptop has traveled with me to Tokyo, Las Vegas and Oxon Hill, Md. It's survived recessions, viruses and low-carb diets when I got pork rind crumbs stuck in its keyboard. And it’s been a champ through it all, booting right up each time like it was brand-new.

The problem is that it weighs almost 10 pounds. When I would run through an airport to catch a plane, the Pavilion was great for my biceps but bad for my disposition. Every trip, I dreaded having to pass it for inspection through the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint. I hated that awkward moment of fumbling with my laptop and tying my shoes while trying to hold onto my passport and boarding pass. I looked so panicky that I worried I was going to call attention to myself and get singled out for further TSA scrutiny.

So on my last few trips, I checked the Pavilion in with my luggage. But even then, TSA always inspected my luggage and left me a little note about it. The security agents probably suspected I was smuggling cement shoes. I’ve come to expect the friendly note from TSA like a mint on my hotel pillow, a little reminder that I’m away from home. Nice that the notes don’t say anything like, “Why don’t you spring for an iPad or at least a netbook? It’s not 2002, you know.”

For me, laptops and airport security have been a difficult mix. I’ve resigned myself to reading actual books on airplanes. But plenty of federal employees and frequent travelers rely on getting laptops through airport security and doing work on the plane.

Will Winton, a digital product manager at GCN Lab parent company 1105 Media, shared his experience with getting his laptop through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.

Winton had been using an old 1950s-style briefcase for his laptop. When you open it up, you put the laptop in the bottom half and secure it with Velcro straps. The top half had lots of pockets for personal digital assistants, disks, power cords, cables and so forth.

The problem was that the top half blocked TSA’s X-ray machines. So TSA officials would require him to open the briefcase, drag out the laptop and place it on the conveyor belt. The Velcro straps wore out from having to be fastened and unfastened so much.

Winton decided to invest $40 in a Solo CheckFast laptop bag from eBags.com. You unzip the bag and place it butterfly style on the TSA conveyor belt. The laptop is tucked safely into a pouch that’s X-ray machine-friendly. His laptop passed through security at both airports, “no questions asked,” Winton said. It saved him that extra step of having to unpack and pack his laptop in his mad dash to the gate.

If you're “a fed who has to do a lot of traveling, you need one of these,” Winton said.

Although it doesn’t endorse specific bag makers or models, TSA does list its laptop bag guidelines on its Web site.

But how about you? What has been your experience with getting laptops and other gadgets through airport security? Share a comment with us about your traveling experiences in the comment box below.

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