New Laptop Bags May Speed TSA Checkpoints

Airport checkpoints have been a choke point for travelers with laptops. That's about to change, thanks to newly redesigned bags

Airport checkpoints have been a choke point for travelers with laptops. That's about to change, thanks to newly redesigned bags.

New "checkpoint friendly" bags due out this fall should be the hottest thing in mobile since the iPhone. These bags can go through x-ray machines with the laptop still in them. That's thanks to a March move by the Transportation Security Administration, which sent an RFI (request for information) to manufacturers, asking them to come up with bags that would let airport screeners see the laptop in one viewing. If they did, it would stop forcing travelers to go through the tedious and potentially damaging exercise of removing their laptops from their cases.

TSA said it wanted to update travel satchels to decrease passenger stress levels, speed checkpoints and lower the number of claims for damaged laptops.

The issue with bags in the past has been that it was hard for security agents to see the laptop, because of all the other things that would get crammed in and around them, like mice, power cords and so on. Pockets with snaps or zippers could also affect the image.

More than 40 luggage makers responded by developing prototype bags that were sent for testing at three airports. TSA has found that a number of these work (backpack designs tend not to, though there's at least one bag maker, Targus, that should have one).

There are some designs currently on the market, like laptop sleeves, that also should work. But most travelers will need to shop for new bags, expected to be widely available this fall.

And the cool security technology to make this all possible: pockets.

Well, more or less. TSA suggested three designs, all of which feature ways to let the laptop be easily accessible without being removed from the bag, such as a bag that could be unzipped to open completely and make the laptop visible, or a bag made of different compartments, one exclusively for the laptop. Several of the designs that passed the x-ray test feature trays, though at least one of TSA's suggested designs was also implemented.

TSA notes that even checkpoint-friendly bags aren't guaranteed to work. Travelers, for instance, will still need to take care to make sure that metal snaps or zippers are not in the laptop-only section. If the screener can't see the laptop properly, it's back to the old process.

Could checkpoint-friendly shoes be next? A TSA spokeswoman stamped on that one, saying shoe removal will remain mandatory.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

Microsoft's very bad year for security: A timeline