The TSA rules for taking laptops and personal electronic devices on a plane can be confusing, to say the least.
There have been many changes to the rules in the past 20 years including a ban on laptops, then laptop ban reversals but at least it seems to have settled down now. It is no wonder passengers get confused about what they are and aren’t allowed these days.
So what is the current situation regarding taking a laptop or multiple laptops on a plane?
Read on for the full details on bringing a laptop on a plane and using it during the flight.
The Quick Answer: Can I bring two laptops on a plane? You can take more than one laptop on a plane and to use 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 connecting to onboard wi-fi if it is available.
Can you take a laptop through airport security?
TSA laptop rules mean there are no restrictions on taking a laptop in carry on luggage through a security checkpoint at the airport.
The laptop can be left in your carry on bags when the bag goes through the x-ray machine if it is a “checkpoint-friendly laptop bag” (see the section below for examples). The x-rays will not damage the data on your disk drives.
If your bag is not checkpoint-friendly then you should remove the laptop and place it in separate bins from your carry on baggage, liquids bag etc. You can keep a laptop inside dedicated laptop sleeves if you have one.
You need to take your laptop out of your bag because X-rays cannot effectively penetrate its dense battery and other mechanical components, particularly if the airport has an outdated scanning system.
In some cases a security agent might ask you to open your laptop and switch it on after it passes through the x-ray scanner, to make sure it’s really a laptop and not a case to transport illegal items. So make sure that there is at least enough charge in the battery for it to start.
How many laptops can you bring on a plane?
There may be occasions, particularly if you are traveling for work, when you may need to take more than one laptop with you.
According to TSA rules, bringing not just one or two laptops but multiple laptops is allowed. You should check that your airline has no objections to you bringing multiple laptops, although most domestic airlines will not have a problem with this on domestic flights. Rules may vary for some international flights.
Of course, you will be restricted on both size and weight of your carry on so carrying multiple laptops might mean you are limited by these restrictions.
If you are unsure about anything relating to taking a laptop through the airport security checkpoint then the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) offers a very good service on Twitter called AskTSA.
This is an example response to a passenger’s question of how many laptops can I bring on a plane in carry on baggage:
“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 screening 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. Not all types of carry on with laptop compartment are checkpoint friendly though.
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 when flying, which I do, then a popular and very well-made one is the Targus Spruce EcoSmart Travel and TSA Checkpoint-Friendly Backpack. This backpack can handle laptops up to 17″.
Are laptops allowed in checked luggage?
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 luggage.
You can place a laptop in a checked bag but, as modern laptops are powered by lithium batteries, the battery must be fitted to the laptop and not be separate. Also, spare laptop batteries cannot be placed in your checked luggage although you can take spare lithium batteries for your laptop in your carry on bags.
If you are going to pack your laptop in your checked luggage make absolutely sure it is packed and padded very well as suitcases do take a pounding in the checked baggage handling system.
TSA security agents may open your checked luggage during the screening process to check the laptop after it is checked in.
This is the answer to a passenger’s query, using the TSA’s Twitter service, with regard to taking a laptop in checked luggage.
My experience of taking a laptop in checked luggage
I had to travel to the UK for my brother’s funeral in early 2021 and I had to self-quarantine in a hotel room due to the virus and lockdown while I was there. So I took my laptop with me to get some work done to help pass the time.
I packed it in my checked luggage as it is a large 17″ laptop and I had limited capacity in my carry on bags. 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.
Oddly, when I got home it fired up straight away!
Can you use a laptop on a plane?
There are no restrictions on using a laptop onboard or any portable electronic devices, provided that it is not out or being used during the take-off and landing phase of the flight.
Many business people use the time on a flight to catch up with emails and other work tasks during a flight.
Wi-fi on board
Many airlines offer onboard Wi-fi for purchase to the passengers – though it can be rather expensive and not very quick (but that is improving). 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.
Extending laptop battery life
Although laptop battery technology has improved greatly in recent years, if you are on a long flight then you may find that your battery runs low and dies. There are a few ways of making the battery last longer and even charging the laptop in flight.
Use less power
You can try and extend the battery duration by:
- Turning down the screen’s brightness
- Turn on power saving mode
- Have as few programs running as possible
Charging using the aircraft’s systems
If you get lucky (which is more and more likely to happen these days, even with the low-cost airlines), your seat may have a USB port you can use to charge your laptop.
Increasingly aircraft also have power outlets so you can charge laptops and other devices using standard charging cables.
Using portable power banks
The Anker PowerCore III Elite above (available on Amazon) is a good choice to take with you to charge your laptop in flight. There are of course many alternatives to choose from.
With a few exceptions, you can take portable chargers in your carry on bag. The exception is any power banks larger than 100 watt-hours. You can take two of these devices per passenger though. Some airlines will allow up to 160 watt-hours so check with your airline if yours are over 100 watt-hours but under 160 watt-hours.
Also read: Taking power banks on a plane
You can take a laptop or multiple laptops on a plane to use 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 onboard wi-fi if it is available.
Are there restrictions on bringing laptops on international flights?
There are no restrictions on taking laptops on an international flight in carry on or checked baggage. You should check that the country you are flying to has no customs restrictions.
How many laptops can I take on a plane?
There are no TSA restrictions on how many laptops you can take on a plane in either carry on or checked baggage.
Can I pack spare laptop batteries in checked bags?
You cannot back spare lithium-ion batteries in your checked bags although lithium-ion batteries are permitted in hand luggage.