In the past, most of us would never even consider placing our laptops in our luggage. Toshiba even ran a popular commercial ad campaign in 2007 featuring horrified airline passengers frantically sputtering the slogan "I checked my notebook!" The idea of surrendering your laptop to the mysteries of the checked baggage system was unthinkable for most travelers. Well, as of late March 24th, both the United Kingdom and the United States imposed a ban on "large electronic devices" in the cabin area of commercial airlines flying directly to the countries from ten airports located in six Middle Eastern (Muslim-majority) countries. The ban prevents any electronic items larger than a mobile phone from entering the cabin. Instead, all passengers must place these objects into their checked baggage that travels in the belly of the airplane. The ban raises many new questions about how to safely pack your laptop in your checked luggage.
Recent terrorist events and intelligence reports have given the US and UK government's reason to believe that terrorists may try to sneak explosives on board a commercial aircraft with the intent of blowing it out of the sky. There is some speculation that the UK government has evidence of a plot to employ a fake iPad to carry explosives onto an airplane. As a results, both countries have implemented hasty regulations to ban large electronics from flights flying directly into the United Kingdom and the United States from six Muslim-majority countries. Overnight, these regulations have forced all passengers flying from these countries to check their laptops for fear that they could potentially contain explosives.
The ban only affects a few flights that originate on the other side of the world but the TSA have not ruled out extending this ban to other airports including US domestic locations.
There are actually a few really good reasons why checking your large electronics is such a bad idea. These boil down to an increase in the possibility of: damage, theft and fire.
Most people are under the misunderstanding our baggage is damaged by burly baggage handlers throwing our bags around in the back of airports. Okay, this happens but it is not the main cause for the damage to our luggage. There are devices called "luggage kickers" that are used inside airport to physically kick your bag from one moving rubber belt to another. You can see and read more about them here. These machines exert enormous forces on our luggage. Placing a laptop inside of a flimsy piece of luggage that it then kicked is a recipe for disaster.
Theft is another issue that you should be very concerned about. Most of the traveling public don't know it but airports are a hotbed for criminal activity. Now that the criminals know that there are laptops in many or most checked bags, it is going to be a field day for them. Most zipper-closed suitcases can be opened and resealed leaving no evidence that a crime has been committed. Our main page has a great video and a more in depth description of how easily this is accomplished.
Some laptops use lite and powerful Lithium Ion batteries. Unfortunately, these batteries are known fire risks. Most airlines refuse to transport Lithium Ion batteries as freight. This is because fires located in the baggage holds are much more difficult for the crew to fight and therefor represent a much greater risk to airline safety. So imagine an airplane hold full of laptops – some with lithium ion batteries. In this scenario, fire is a very real risk.
Unfortunately, these negatives are far out weighted by the risk of a terrorist getting a bomb on board a commercial aircraft. So the ban will be with us for the foreseeable future.
There are several simple things that you can do to protect yourself (and your laptop) from theft and damage in the event that you must check your laptop or large electronic devices.
1) Only buy luggage that do not use zippers to remain closed. Bad guys are looking for the easiest targets. Latches and clamps are difficult to defeat and less simple to open so thieves will quickly move on to the next bag.
2) Only buy hard sided luggage made from a hard material such as PVC or aluminum. These materials will prevent flexing and direct force being existed on your large electronics. Lighter Polycarbonate materials are fine too, if accompanied with a strong metal frame (to resist warping under pressure).
3) You can further protect your laptop inside your suitcase by using a simple air pillow sleeve. These air pillows are simple plastic envelopes made from inflated protective tubes. There are also foam lined laptop shipping boxes that will accomplish the same protection.
4) Finally, make sure that you place your large electronics in the center of your bag and away from heavy, hard or dense objects. Try to avoid placing the electronics directly against an outer wall. This location will enhance the protection of your electronics by using your clothing as additional shock absorbing material.
5) If your laptop hard drive uses delicate rotating disks (platters), it may a good idea to remove the drive before you check the laptop to further prevent damage and/or data loss. If your hard drive is solid state, there is less risk of damage but the risk of data loss is the same.