Good news: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is now making business travelers' lives a whole lot easier. You'll soon be able to buy computer cases that allow laptops to remain in their bags when going through airport security checkpoints.
The bad news: You can't easily get one of these new bags yet. After 9/11, the government understandably became very serious about airport security. According to a recent TSA press release:
"TSA screens laptops to see if the electronics have been tampered with. TSOs (Transportation Security Officers) know what the inside of a computer should look like, and can recognize irregularities. This is why they need an unobstructed view as the item moves through the X-ray machine."
Recently, the TSA asked computer accessory and luggage manufacturers to develop new laptop case designs that would produce a "clear and unobstructed image" of the laptop when undergoing X-ray screening. The ability of these TSOs to "see through the bag" would save time, effort and money in the screening process.
The TSA announced that the new, "check-point-friendly" laptop bags were suitable for use this past weekend. However, a TSA survey of some of the 60 manufacturers that have expressed interest in producing the new bags found that it would take until after Labor Day to have them on the market.
One of the manufacturers that I've spoken with, Pathfinder Luggage, told me that it has started taking orders for its approved bag design and hopes to start filling those orders early next month.
But that's not all. Even if you buy one of these new bags, there is no guarantee that you'll save any time on airport security lines. The bags only work if you don't overstuff them with cables, extension cords, disks, accessories and anything that might obscure the X-ray image of the computer inside.
"Purchasing one of these bags will not guarantee that you can leave your laptop in your bag for screening. If a TSO finds that the bag does not present a clear and distinct image of the laptop separate from the rest of the bag, the laptop will have to be screened separately."
A few laptop bag styles currently on the market, such as laptop-only sleeves, have the potential to be approved as "checkpoint friendly," if they are correctly packed. But most current laptop bags on the market do not meet the new standard.
The TSA will not approve or endorse any particular type of bag design or manufacturer and will only allow laptops to stay in bags through screening if they provide a clear and unobstructed X-ray image.
In the last line of its news release, the TSA reminds consumers not to become too complacent:
"Given TSA's use of random screening protocols, TSA reserves the right to re-screen any bag or laptop regardless of the design of the bag."