If you’re a geek like us, you never travel without your laptop. While netbooks have become more popular for lightweight personal travel, most of us still have to lug full size notebooks for work. Given the travel situation in the post-9/11 world, we were extremely happy when we heard that TSA (the airport security folks) put out specifications for laptop bags to allow laptops to go through security without having to be removed from the bag. Sure, you could always travel with your laptop, but those of us who travel regularly know what a hassle the X-ray checkpoints can be.
Typically, with an ordinary laptop bag, security makes you remove a laptop and put it in a bin by itself, with nothing covering it. This means, on top of removing your shoes, emptying your pockets, taking off your watch, belt, cell phone, keys, yank out your zip lock bag with your gels and liquids, you also have to dig out your laptop.
Given that most laptop thefts take place in airports, and the majority of those take place in the exit of the X-ray line, being able to keep your laptop secure and hidden in your bag is a big deal and a time saver. If you travel through a major US airport such as Atlanta or Chicago, you know that even saving 20 seconds per person can add up to huge time savings and shortened lines when considering the thousands of people moving through the checkpoints in those airports.
It has been several years since TSA announced their guidelines for approved bags, and we felt it was time to see what the various bag manufacturers had come up with. We contacted a total of 7 manufacturers asking for their offerings, and three sent us review units: Belkin “Flythru”, Skooba “Checkthrough Brief”, and Tom Bihn “Checkpoint Flyer”. Let’s see if any of these TSA compliant laptop bags fit the bill.
In order to try to make this comparison as even as possible, we asked each company to provide us with a TSA approved bag that could fit a 15” Dell D820 laptop (a fairly common size/weight business laptop.) We asked for bags that were large enough to store the laptop, accessories, some paperwork, a change of clothes and your toiletries, – ideally, everything needed to make an overnight business trip (okay, everything a guy would need for an overnight trip!) We gave each bag a thorough inspection, and then gave each person in our office a chance to use the bag for several days. Each bag was also used for actual travel on at least one occasion. Each team member’s comments were taken into account while writing this review.
All of the bags had some features in common. For instance, with the exception of the Tom Bihn bag, they all used a zip-open butterfly design with a compartment off the main bag to place your laptop into. This is to keep the laptop isolated while on the conveyor belt of the x-ray machine, but then to easily re-attach it to the main bag before continuing through the airport. The Tom Bihn used a 3rd “flip out” pouch to do this. Each bag also had some form of strap to slip the bag over the pull handle for your roll-aboard luggage to facilitate easier carrying. All of the bags had numerous compartments in which to store your items, as well as internal pockets in each section. Several of the bags also either included, or have as add-on accessories a 3-1-1 liquids + gels bag/pouch (as a replacement for the ubiquitous zip-lock bag).