Since 2008, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) started allowing certain laptop bags to go through X-ray screening, without having to remove them from the bag. The idea is to help speed up the screening process, since regulation requires all laptops to be removed from bags and placed into a bin – a process that not only confuses many passengers, but also leads to lost laptops (in 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported that the TSA at Los Angeles International Airport found 154 laptops left behind at security, between July 12 and August 12).
To help combat these issues, the TSA implemented guidelines for “checkpoint friendly” bags, which are designed to allow screeners to easily and clearly see the laptop and what’s inside it. They can be in a butterfly style (a bag folds open into two parts) or trifold style (three parts), or a laptop sleeve; whatever the style, it must be able to lie completely flat.
What resulted was a deluge of checkpoint-friendly bags. And like most computer bags, the problem is that most of them are more utilitarian than stylish. They tend to be black, boxy, boring, and in a sea of similar-looking bags, they won’t win you any points for style or personality. If you want a checkpoint-friendly bag that will help you quickly get through security, but that you won’t be embarrassed about carrying around, we’ve found nine products that are well made, smart, and trendy. And since they all look great, you can use them for anytime of the day, even when you aren’t flying.
A caveat: Despite the TSA approving these bags, it doesn’t endorse any brand nor is it obligated to acknowledge them during security checks. To be frank, it’s really up to the TSA agents who are working on your day of travel. From our experience, we’ve had agents tell us to keep our laptops in our sleeves, but on other occasions, the agents made everyone remove their laptops, regardless of the bag and the signs indicating the use of TSA-approved bags.
The trademark bike messenger bag – a favorite with both delivery guys and gals, as well as Web startup employees – gets an update for today’s frequent fliers. The Commute is made with the same materials Timbuk2 users are familiar with – soft lining to protect gadgets, while the environmentally friendly, waterproof flap keeps crap out. The laptop compartment opens all the way so that it lies flat, meeting TSA requirements. Available in various sizes and colors, the largest version has enough room for a quick trip.
Understated elegance for the business traveler, the Tumi Alpha 2 opens and folds flat for passing through checkpoint scanners. A separate compartment has dividers to keep your files organized, with room for an iPad or other accessories. Inside, there’s a zip pocket with what Tumi calls Tumi ID Lock; it’s made with special material that blocks RFID signals, keeping things like credit cards and passports secure from wireless identity theft (although actual risk is debatable). A pass-through on the back lets you slip the briefcase onto a rolling luggage’s handle bar. The Alpha 2 is made with Tumi’s FXT ballistic nylon that’s tough yet soft. A backpack version is also available.
With its big capacity, the Harbor Backpack from Manhattan Portage does double-duty as a carry-on for a weekend trip. Inside is a removable sleeve that accommodates a 15-inch laptop. Unlike the other bags listed, you will have to pull the sleeve out of the bag before sending it through a scanner; however, the large mouth opening makes it easy to quickly stash it back in.
The entire bag is made with a plastic membrane that’s waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about your clothes or electronics getting wet. Also ideal for bicycle commuters (Manhattan Portage, like Timbuk2, has its roots in making bike messenger bags), the bag is part of the company’s high-style Black Label line.
With the same design cues and iconic logo as the gaming laptops and desktops, this Alienware Vindicator can accommodate Alienware’s 18-inch laptop (thankfully, other sizes are also available). Made by Mobile Edge, the bag has a checkpoint-friendly compartment, while another has enough room for all your gaming accessories and other gear. Perfect for that traveler heading to E3, PAX, Comic-Con, or any gaming convention. Mobile Edge also makes a bunch of checkpoint-friendly bags (it calls them ScanFast) for different users, not just gamers.
To keep the Daylight Briefcase compact while checkpoint friendly, Tom Bihn created an attachment system that lets you easily pull out the laptop sleeve when needed (you can remove the sleeve completely for when you’re not flying). It not only meets TSA regulations, but it minimizes the risk of forgetting the laptop in a bin (trust us, we’ve been there). The stylish urban bag is made in the United States, using lightweight but strong materials, and inside there are plenty of what Tom Bihn calls O-rings, which lets you clip on a variety of pouches, straps, etc.
Since the TSA doesn’t require you to remove a laptop if it’s in a sleeve, you can use the Taipan Superslim 15, provided it’s just a laptop that’s inside. But the bag has a clever trick: For all other times, the bottom of the case can expand to accommodate additional items. We’re fans of Booq’s camera bags for their quality and design, and the Taipan Superslim 15 has a similar build, like water-resistant, lightweight 1680D triple-weaved polyester. Like Booq’s camera bags, the laptop case has the Terralinq ID, a unique serial number that could help you recover a bag.
While The North Face makes gear for the outdoors, the Surge II is as urban and techie as backpacks go. Included is the weather-resistant Joey T55 power supply for recharging phones, tablets, GoPro Hero cameras, and other USB-based electronics. A lie-flat laptop compartment accommodates computers up to 17 inches, and meets checkpoint guidelines. The Surge II comes in various colors, and it’s made with the North Face quality that has earned the company lots of loyal customers.
If you can’t decide between a messenger bag, backpack, or handheld briefcase, why not have all three? The Straight Up briefcase converts into any of those modes to suit your mood, while the laptop compartment folds open for airport screeners. The shoulder straps are well padded for the long haul, and, like Tumi’s Alpha 2, there’s an RFID-blocking pocket for IDs, cards, passports.
For globetrotters who need a one-size-fits-all bag, the Cronus is one of our favorites. A butterfly-style opening lets you keep the laptop inside during the many airport security checks you’ll go through, while the 35-liter main compartment lets you stash a few T-shirts, shorts, and underwear. There are lots of side pockets for small accessories or water bottles.