The rules for using electronic items on a plane can be confusing, to say the least. There have been so many different changes, bans, ban reversals, and bans again – that it’s no wonder people are getting confused about what they are and aren’t allowed to do with their gadgets when going on board these days. So what is the current situation regarding using a laptop on a plane?
You can take a laptop on a plane and use it for work or perhaps to watch a movie when in the air. You will be asked to turn your laptop off during takeoffs and landings but using them mid-flight is perfectly okay, even using on-board wi-fi if it is available.
That said, you will have to meet certain criteria to get your laptop on the plane.
Can you take a laptop through airport security?
There are no restrictions on taking a laptop through a security checkpoint at the airport. In fact, you can take more than one laptop. They can be left in your carry on when the bag goes through the x-ray machine if it is a “checkpoint friendly computer bag” (see section below for examples).
If your bag is not checkpoint friendly then you should remove the laptop and place it separately in a tray.
In some cases a security agent might ask you to open your laptop after it passes through the x-ray scanner, to make sure it’s really a laptop and not a case to transport illegal items.
If you are suddenly selected for an additional check-up – don’t be worried. Simply open your laptop and show the security that it’s exactly what you claimed it is – and you can be on your way.
And always remember one thing: you give up all the rights to your computer the moment you start the check-in process. This may sound wild, but it is, unfortunately, the bitter truth. The security can confiscate your laptop for any reason at any time – or even without a reason at all. This is extremely rare though so don’t get hung up about it.
If you are unsure about anything relating to taking a laptop though the airport security checkpoint then the TSA offer a very good service on Twitter called AskTSA. Using this you can ask a specific question about whether you can take something through the security checkpoint and they will respond quickly.
This is an example response to a passenger’s question regarding carrying a laptop:
Are laptops allowed in checked baggage?
If you don’t need to use a laptop during the flight then, as they are bulky, you may want to save space in your carry on bag by placing it in your checked baggage.
You can place a laptop in a checked bag but, as they are powered by lithium batteries, the battery must be fitted to the laptop and not separate. Also, spare laptop batteries cannot be placed in your checked bags.
If you are going to pack your laptop in your suitcase make absolutely certain it is packed and padded very well as suitcases do take a pounding in the baggage handling system.
I had to travel to the UK for my brother’s funeral in early 2021 so had to self-quarantine in a hotel room due to the virus so I took my laptop with me to get some work done. I packed it in my checked bag as I had limited carry on capacity. When I got to my hotel and set it up it wouldn’t turn on! I was so bored without it to keep me occupied.
Security may open your bag to check the laptop after it is checked in.
“Checkpoint friendly” laptop bags
These days you might not be asked to take the laptop out of the bag if it satisfies certain requirements. These types of bags are sometimes referred to as “checkpoint-friendly” bags.
These bags have a laptop-only section that can easily unfold and lie flat (on the x-ray conveyor belt). The laptop-only section cannot have any other pockets on the inside or outside or any details made of metal (like zippers or buckles) inside. And obviously, there should be nothing in the laptop-only section aside from the laptop.
Keep in mind though that these bags are a fairly new thing and sometimes even checkpoint employees have no idea if their airport allows these types of “inside bag” check-ups.
Popular checkpoint friendly laptop bags
One of the most popular laptop bags available on Amazon is the Targus Spruce EcoSmart Checkpoint-Friendly Laptop Bag. It can hold laptops up to 15.6″.
If you prefer a laptop backpack wheb flying, which I do, then a popular and very well made one is the Travelpro Crew Executive Choice 2 Checkpoint Friendly Laptop Backpack. This backpack can handle laptops up to 17″.
Wi-fi on board
Many airlines offer on-board Wi-fi for purchase to the passengers – though it can be rather expensive and not very quick. If you’ve loaded up on entertainment (or have everything you need for work ready to go), you may not need the internet at all.
If that’s the case, then make sure to disable your wireless network connection before you actually start using the laptop for anything else. This is because it will start consuming your battery power like a starving man the moment you start working.
If you get lucky (which is more and more likely to happen these days, even with the low-cost airlines), the seat before you may have a USB port you can use to charge your laptop. But I would advise against putting the battery through extra work when there’s no need.