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Seven rules for flying with a laptop: Share these tips with clients

A client is planning on flying for an upcoming trip, and you know he may not have time to check the TSA's guidelines on traveling with a laptop. Be a good little elf and prepare your client for what he can expect by telling him these seven helpful rules.

 The holidays are just around the corner, and some of your IT consulting clients are going to take their laptops over the river and through the woods to grandma's house. Many companies allow employees to take company-provided laptops and other electronics on personal trips. It makes it easier for key employees to get away from it all, without really getting a way from a thing.

If clients aren't used to flying with a laptop, they'll need a little education, and that's where you come in. Even if clients are familiar with the routine, it won't hurt to give them a few pointers to help make their trip memorable -- in a good way. Flying with a laptop is a nonevent most of the time, but if a client encounters security officers devoid of holiday cheer, knowing how to react could make or break the trip.

Here are my seven rules for flying with a laptop:

Rule #1: You have no rights in regards to your laptop.

This is a hard rule to explain to people: A border guard can confiscate your laptop at any time and without cause. You should hand it over when asked. Don't argue, don't negotiate -- just hand it over. This isn't just a flying rule; this could also happen if you're driving across a border. The good news is that I don't know a single person that's had their laptop confiscated.

Rule #2: Your laptop is a carry-on item.

It might be tempting to check your laptop with your luggage, but don't. Chances are that you'll never see it again. Most of the time, you're allowed a laptop bag in addition to one carry-on bag. Check your airline's Web page in advance of going to the airport just to be sure. Also, check foreign destinations and layovers.

Rule #3: Arrive early and read the signs.

The people that have trouble getting through security checkpoints are the people who fail to follow the rules. If you don't know what to do, go to an information desk and ask. Breaking a rule probably won't get you into trouble, but it will delay your wait in line. Most airports have two lines: One for those who follow the rules and are prepared and one for those who don't. Guess who gets through their checkpoint quickest?

Rule #4: Your laptop goes in a separate bin at checkpoints.

When you go through a checkpoint, remove your laptop from its bag and put it in its own bin. One laptop in one bin. Don't put anything else in there, or they'll send you to the line for people who don't read signs (see Rule #3).

There's a bit of good news on the subject of bags. If you use the right kind of bag, you might not have to remove it. Butterfly and trifold bags are checkpoint friendly, but accordion and backpack bags are not.

Security needs an unobstructed view of your laptop's insides according to "Checkpoint Friendly" Laptop Bag Procedures from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Regardless of your bag's type, an officer still might ask you to remove your laptop from its bag. Remember: just do it.

Don't worry if an officer swabs the laptop's surface. They're checking for explosive residue. It happens routinely, and they're not singling you out. Dusting your laptop before reaching the checkpoint might prevent this check, but it might not.

(Check out security blogger Chad Perrin's post about Evan Roth's T.S.A. Communication project. Although the project is sometimes described as art, Chad warns that it might also get your bag searched.)

Rule #5: Remember to retrieve your laptop from the checkpoint.

Congratulations! You flew through security so fast that you forgot to pick up your laptop. It happens -- a lot. It's hard to blame folks. The process is a bit unnerving, especially to someone who is not accustomed to flying. Tape your name and phone number to the laptop, just in case.

Rule #6: Ask about on board use.

Each airline is different, so check their Web site or ask a flight attendant before turning on your laptop once you board the plane. Most airlines require that you turn off your laptop when the door closes. Once the plane reaches cruising altitude, you can turn it on. However, they won't allow wireless transmissions, so remove your card. (Delta Air Lines recently announced that it will begin offering Wi-Fi connectivity on all domestic U.S. flights by the middle of 2009.) If you forget, a polite flight attendant will remind you. A not-so-polite flight attendant might take your laptop for the duration of the flight. Before the plane lands, you'll be required to turn off your laptop and stow it away.

Rule #7: Don't forget your adapter.

If you're traveling abroad, make sure your laptop will work on 230-volt current. If so, you'll also need a plug adaptor. You can purchase these before you leave, or you can usually purchase an adapter once you reach your destination.

Some clients may need additional tips

There are many tips for getting through airport security quickly and without embarrassment, tears, or name-calling (which will probably get you sent to the third line, which includes an escort off the premises). The above rules deal only with laptops. You might want to add more tips for your clients, especially the ones who don't fly much or haven't flown in the post September 11 era.

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About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

72 comments
stan
stan

Since my laptop contains propriatary information (as well as some personal information), I simply refuse to travel anywhere outside of the US. There is no way I'm going to let some government flunky take my laptop for several weeks/months.

floppydisk
floppydisk

I travel all over Europe and the Far East and agree with all the rules. HOWEVER, don't forget to backup your data prior to flying and carry key data and presentations on a separate memory key. Good news is that London Heathrow has recently updated its scanning software and no longer requires laptops to be removed from bags.

chris
chris

Of course, what I really want to know is how many lives have been saved by making life so hard for so many millions. I bet banning alcohol would save more. Or restricting cars speed automatically. I wonder how many crimes happen in Iran or N Korea? I'd rather have more freedom and live with more potential harm that be hurt by my government. Sorry

mrmiata7
mrmiata7

Our borders are wide open and ports unsecured during a War on Terror. Hundreds of Mexican trucks from a country rife with corruption (run by drug cartels) cross the border daily. Despite what DHS tells the American people those trucks are not adequately inspected by Customs and Border Protection but are given a 15 second "electronic waive through" and in instances where there are long lines at border crossings are not even subject to those screenings but just sent through. Border patrol agents and other law enforcement authorities also tell us they constantly stop trucks miles north of the border loaded with illegal aliens, drugs and weapons. They estimate from 5,000 to 10,000 illegal aliens sneak cross the border every week and "on a good day", for every illegal alien they apprehend 4 or 5 evade/elude capture. They also found prayer rugs, Spanish for Dummies used by those from countries of special interest to blend in with the invading hordes and parts of IED's and other bomb making material. An undercover government security team successfully smuggled enough simulated fissile material across the joke of a border using backpacks and bags (also used by illegal aliens to smuggle drugs and weapons) to make a small bomb and transported the material right up to the steps of the Federal Building in Phoenix. The U.S. visit program designed to track those who are here on visas and ensure they leave upon expiration of those visas is a total failure allowing millions to remain here with no knowledge of their locations and intentions with many actually taking jobs from Americans. The Visa Waiver program has been expanded to include those from countries possibly supporting terrorism. I haven't even covered the out of control drug cartel violence raging along our southern border (aided and abetted by Mexican Military units engaged in hostile actions against border patrol agents and sheriff's deputies on our side of the border) resulting in murder, rape, robbery and other crimes against innocent Americans living along the border and is quickly spreading throughout the U.S. National security....Both candidates have refused to and will not secure our borders and ports. National security.....what national security??????

ashishkgtm
ashishkgtm

HOw many laptops one can carry along. 1 official and personal ?

charles.homsy
charles.homsy

If you have the time take a train or drive yourself that way you don't have to worry about these infantile posturings of a few tech brainless wonders. Also, there is nothing written into the law that says they can go fishing around inside your laptop beyond it's operating correctly. The TSA has no rights to inspect the contents of your hard drive without a warrant signed specifically with those intents. They might like to think they do but they don't. The only thing they are allowed to check is if it turns on and off properly.

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

Read the rules. Homeland security can confiscate ANY electronic media -- flash drives, digital cameras, iPod -- ANYTHING. Encryption will only result in your stuff being taken for a longer period -- maybe forever. There is no obligation of 'reasonable cause' -- and they can search it for anything from terrorist information -- to anything copyrighted such as MP3 files or images. The only real answer is to either: a) Never cross the US border with anything containing information you don't want the nazis to have. Considering how adept the government is at 'losing' information, that isn't such a bad idea. CEOs should be especially wary -- their new business strategies could be quite interesting to 'people' browsing their drives. b) Have nothing but a bare operating system on the computer and put the 'information' somewhere you can get to it reasonably safely -- such as through a VPN. (Not great for accessing more than a few hundreds megs though -- and some VPNs have issues with some gateways used by hotels/businesses.) As for myself, I just refuse any US contracts. Plenty of good work in countries where 'freedom' and 'privacy' still exist.

Raymond Danner
Raymond Danner

Oddly enough, I went from BHM to MDT recently (round-trip) with a laptop backpack (that didn't have the laptop in it) and lo and behold, the TSA made no quibbles about it at all, even though one pocket was jammed full of small electronics (a Sansa e260, earbuds, etc.) and my cellphone was in the backpack's cellphone carrier! Can anyone give a brief rundown on the rule on a spare battery? I've an iRecharge universal laptop battery that I'll need to take, since my laptop has abysmal run-times on its battery. Whilst I will indeed be running on AC at the airport (while waiting on whatever), it would be a major inconvenience to have the thing confiscated for no sane reason. (see www.cellboost.com for more info on the iRecharge)

PCcritic
PCcritic

I suspect that the last rule is about traveling abroad.

cballinger
cballinger

And Check TSA's web site about batteries. You can no longer carry LI batteries as spares without all sorts of rules posted on TSA's web site, the same goes for extra batteries for your camera, DVD Player etc. To avoid hassles travel with the set in the device and if needed buy another set when you get where you're going and then figure out how to get them home if they were expensive....

wynnsb
wynnsb

All laptops look the same when going through security. I have my business card taped to the top of my laptop so I can quickly tell mine from the other guy's. Plus, if in my mad dash to the gate I forget to put it back in my bag, TSA can call me instead of making a general announcement about the laptop left at the security checkpoint. (This has not happend to me, but I have heard the announcements.) Something else to think about is taping a business card to external USB drives. Drives are easy to leave behind at customer sites and in hotel rooms. It might increase your chances of ever seeing it again.

---TK---
---TK---

Ha, this reminds me of when I had 8 flights in two weeks... I was pre-flaged for a random search, it wasnt to bad. Yes I had a laptop, pda, two cellphones... all of it was swabbed for bomb making material... lol and it took all of 5-10 minutes, aslong as you follow their directions... They asked why I was carrying so much electonic stuff, I simply old them what I was traveling for. About one minute of explaining what I was doing, they told me to go on... Need less to say I was using all Acronyms, then explaind about what each one was... lol... That didnt last to long... The crappy part is gathering up everything that they dump out... what a mess...

SerrJ215
SerrJ215

I was also told by a an assosiate of mine that security also had rights to see the actual data on the Laptop. Is this true?

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