Review: 3 TSA-Approved Laptop Bags Compared – Belkin Flythru, Skooba Checkthrough Brief & Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer

Tom Bihn “Checkpoint Flyer”

Tom Bihn may not be quite a household name, but they have built a solid reputation for themselves with their products, and we knew we had to include them in this roundup. Made in the USA (Seattle to be exact) Tom Bihn’s bags have a reputation for excellent craftsmanship and interesting, non-conventional design. If any laptop bag was going to live up to the “luggage” standard, we figured it would be this one, and we weren’t disappointed.

We should preface our review of the bag by stating that we were sent more than a base configuration. While the Checkpoint Flyer by itself is an adequate bag, most of the really interesting things take place through the use of various accessories. While we like this mix-and-match approach, we are a bit disappointed by the higher price. The bag alone costs $220, and for that price you get your choice of laptop compartments (they make several different sizes, able to accommodate just about any laptop), but no shoulder strap, no 3-1-1 liquids/gels pouch, no organization for papers, pens or anything else. If you want those things, they’re all additional. As tested, our configuration came to $303. While that certainly raises the price in order to get you what you want, it also allows you to tailor the bag to fit your needs. You don’t have dedicated pockets that might be useless to you. (There were a number of pockets on the other bags that for the life of us we couldn’t figure out what we’d put in them.) Therefore, the rest of this review is based on the “typical” configuration with accessories (which we’ll point out.)

The Checkpoint Flyer, unlike the other bags in our review, uses a tri-fold style layout. The laptop compartment is actually its own small bag with handle that clips to the rest of the Checkpoint Flyer on the bottom.  When getting to the security checkpoint, you simply release a pair of heavy plastic snap clips and flop open the 3 segments of the bag so they lay flat on the screening machine.

The zippers on the Checkpoint Flyer are excellent YKK brand ones, and every zipper has material covering it so that when zipped, you can’t even see the teeth of the zipper. This helps the Checkpoint Flyer achieve a good level of water resistance, as water would have a harder time getting to the zipper itself. We were quite disappointed with the zipper pulls however. Where the other bags we tried came with large, easy to grab metal zipper pulls, Tom Bihn chose to use flat oversized pulls. (Note: Tom Bihn sells a nylon zipper pull accessory kit.) While not the end of the world, we would have preferred to see better pulls to go with the superior zippers, especially given the superior price.

The laptop compartment, as stated earlier, is actually a bag on its own, and you’ll need to order depending upon the laptop size you’ll be carrying. What we liked about this configuration is that you can get one that holds your laptop snugly. (The others had our 13” Macbook sliding around inside.) The issue, though, is when you change laptops, or if you routinely carry different machines. If you need a different size compartment though, you can buy that separately for $70. We feel this isn’t a bad compromise. It’s certainly better than having to buy a whole new $220 bag! On the other hand, we didn’t particularly like the clips that were used to attach the bottom of the laptop compartment to the rest of the bag. In fact, we found them downright frustrating to use when trying to change compartments out. In terms of protection, we felt the compartment itself would do a good job, given its semi-rigid shell and soft padded interior.

There were some other little cool features we liked about the Checkpoint Flyer. It was the only one in the review that actually had a space for putting a travel umbrella (on the end of the main compartment.) Likewise, rather than using a dedicated strap for attaching to your roll-aboard, they instead put a zipper on the bottom of the rear compartment. Assuming you don’t need that compartment to hold anything, you simply unzip and now you have a sleeve to slide down your roll-aboard’s handle. Both the two front compartments and the big main one have D-style rings for clipping articles to. We actually used one of these in one of the front compartments to attach the 3-1-1 liquids cube, allowing us even quicker checkpoint times as the liquids bag was attached to everything else allowing for a speedy get-away.

Probably the biggest difference between the Checkpoint Flyer and the others is that it is a non-rigid bag, and as such can expand and contract to fit the contents of the bag. Where the other bags main compartments were rigid and would always take up the same amount of space, even when empty, the Tom Bihn bag could be compressed down when the main compartment wasn’t being used.  Likewise, we could allow it to bulge out to take additional contents when needed.

The Accessories

While the bag itself was nice, what really made it shine were the accessories that Tom Bihn sells for it. Every one of the reviewers absolutely raved over the Freudian Slip insert unit. This insert acts as both paper filing cabinet, and pen/pencil holder. What we loved so much about it was that it was really nice being able to yank that our of the bag when boarding the plane, tuck it into the seat back pocket, and put the rest of the bag away. This allowed us easy access to our papers and such while in flight without having to get up to access the overhead bins, or dig around at our feet.

Tom Bihn sells two different shoulder straps for their bags. For our review they sent us the Absolute Shoulder Strap. We have to say, we think it’s by far the best shoulder strap we’ve had on any bag we’ve ever carried!  It’s hard to describe, but the material found in the part that goes on your shoulder is extremely squishy, and stretchy. We literally felt that the bag felt half as heavy on our shoulder using this strap rather than one of the competitors, while attached to the same bag with the same load. The strap also didn’t suffer from any slippage problems either. Even if you choose another bag, we totally recommend spending the extra money for this strap!

For 3-1-1 Gels/Liquids, Tom Bihn sent us their 3D Clear Organizer Cube. Built of similar quality as the Checkpoint Flyer itself, we found that it fit perfectly in one of the two front pockets and with the D-ring clip system we were able to attach it and keep everything linked together. While we’re sure you can get a certified 3-1-1 bag cheaper, we think this one will hold up better than most and is worth the money if you’re a serious traveler.

The Checkpoint Flyer as reviewed costs $220 for the basic bag, $30 for the shoulder strap, $18 for the 3-1-1 clear cube, and $35 for the Freudian Slip organizer for a total of  $303. The bag comes in several different colors (Red/Black, Blue/Black, Black/Black, and Gray/Black). The exterior of the bag is made of U.S. 500 denier Cordura® and 1050 denier Ballistic nylon which they claim has twice the abrasion resistance of 1680 denier fabric. All Tom Bihn products carry a lifetime guarantee from defects for the original buyer. They also provide a 60-day money back guarantee.  If you get it home, decide you don’t like it or that it won’t fit your needs, they’ll let you send it back (provided it’s in original condition.) Given that you can’t buy these bags in normal stores, we applaud them for this policy – some things you just have to touch to know if they’re right for you!

5 thoughts on “Review: 3 TSA-Approved Laptop Bags Compared – Belkin Flythru, Skooba Checkthrough Brief & Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer”

  1. Thanks. Great, thorough review. The chart is very useful too. I want to recommend another to consider for your next review. I've been using the Cozmo Mambo Combo from Waterfield Designs ( It uses the TSA sleeve + bag system and has served me exceptionally well for years. I highly recommend checking it out.

  2. Thanks for the feedback and I'm glad you enjoyed it! If we end up doing another eval of bags in the future I'll be sure to include your recommendation.

  3. I second the recommendation for the Cozmo bag. TSA friendly, sturdy, great pockets and stylish (which…ahem…is more than I can say for the ones in the picture.)

  4. Too bad there is no such thing as a TSA approved bag. Was the TSA even consulted before writing this??? The TSA does not and will not approve any mfgrs bags. They at their discretion can still make you take your laptop out of the case.

    1. Lenny, if you REALLY want to pick nits, yes, you're right…

      TSA gave specification that the manufacturers could follow to create bags that would allow laptops to go through the screening devices without being removed from the bag.

      So, no, they're not "TSA Certified", but they are "TSA Compliant". So if you want to pick nits, fine…

      And I DO say in the article that TSA ALWAYS reserves the right to make you remove the laptop… But so far the couple of times I've travelled with these bags (and the others here in the office that tested them as well) we have YET to be asked to remove the laptop… TSA haven't even so much as asked me if I had a laptop in the bag (they have asked another tester that, but didn't ask him to remove it.)

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