Electronics at Airport Security Checks: Do I Remove My Laptop?

how to handle electronics at security

For those of us that travel with lots of electronics, whether it be laptops, tablets, or camera equipment, the security line can be the most stressful part of our travel day.

You may or may not have to take items out to be screened separately and are never really sure until you get to the security personnel. The rules differ by country, but for the United States, the official TSA website says that a standard screening includes taking out your laptop and placing it in a separate bin from your liquids, bag, jacket, and other items.

But what about netbooks? Or if you have a bag that should allow for x-ray screening? What about in other countries? We’ll dive into all the misinformation surrounding traveling with electronics in today’s post.

Do you have your own tips for traveling through security with electronics? Share them below!

Laptops

The rules are fairly clear when it comes to traveling with laptops at airport security. They must come out of your bag and go into their own bin. The only exception is if you have TSA Pre-Check, a US government program that allows you to go through security while keeping your laptop, coat and shoes.

There are also “checkpoint friendly” laptop bags and briefcases on the market that claim to allow your laptop to stay in its case while going through security. It should have its own compartment for the laptop without excess pockets, zippers, snaps, or buckles. It also needs to be able to lie completely flat.

But with that said, you can purchase a bag of this type and still have the TSA agents ask you to take it out of the bag, no matter what the bag’s marketing materials say.

If you don’t want to bother with a special bag, be sure to keep your laptop in a place that is easy to access within your bag, and easy to put back in. I typically take out my laptop and hold it in my arms long before I make it to the front of the security line, along with my liquids bag, so that I can breeze through quickly. But I also recommend putting your laptop bin through first so that you can keep an eye on it as long as possible. I would recommend treating a netbook in the same way as a laptop when it comes to security.

Laptops Through Airport Security Check:

1. Store laptop in easy to access location in your carry-on luggage.
2. Take laptop out before getting to the security line.
3. Place laptop in its own bin.

*If traveling with a “checkpoint friendly” laptop bag, be prepared for potentially still needing to remove from the bag.

Phones, Tablets and E-Readers

This is where things get tricky. Some airport staff in the US will ask you to take your iPad or tablet out for screening, as does the official website for Gatwick in the UK. I haven’t had much trouble with being asked to remove them from my bag for screening, but there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule for these smaller electronics. E-readers don’t seem to be considered as the same category as laptops and shouldn’t be required to be removed according to the official TSA blog. The same goes for handheld gaming systems.

Phones, whether smartphones or basic cell phones, should be taken out of your pockets and tucked into your bag for safekeeping along with your ID and boarding pass. You don’t need to carry it with you through the scanner or metal detector. If you don’t have access to your bag, put it in a bin for screening. Also keep an eye on these, as they’re an easier item to steal.

Phones, Tablets, & E-Readers at Security:

1. Be prepared to take iPads and tablets out of your bag for screening. Experiences vary by destination.
2. E-readers are generally fine to leave in your bags.
3. Phones should be removed from pockets and placed in your bags for safekeeping.

electronics at airport security
Take your phone out of your pocket before going through security at the airport.

Camera Equipment

Apart from the practical packing of camera and photography gear, bringing your gear through security can be tricky as well. You should pack your bodies, lenses, and accessories in a padded carry-on bag, like the PacSafe CamSafe, because theft and loss can get very expensive. If you do decide to check a bag full of gear, make sure it’s insured and that you have all receipts to make a claim.

Some items may appear to be suspicious through the metal detector, as I found out when it came to my monopod and GoPro extender pole. Tripods and other items with telescoping legs may set off the alarm so be prepared to take them out. I also have strapped them to the side of my backpack to make it easier to scan.

Make everything as easy for yourself as possible so that in case you do get asked to take something out, you won’t have a pile of items to re-pack at security.

Camera Equipment at Security:

1. Pack equipment safely in protective luggage, but make sure it is accessible at the same time.
2. Be prepared to remove items from luggage if asked; some equipment may look suspicious or be hard to read by the scanner.
3. Take note of any issues and pack accordingly for your next security experience.

Theft from airport security is an unfortunate truth of traveling these days, so keep an eye on your belongings as much as possible. Pack in an organized way that allows you to remove items like your laptop quickly and efficiently and be prepared in case you’re asked to remove your tablet or camera items. Be sure to double check the policies of your destination before you leave. And have a great trip!

Do you have any experiences to share bringing certain electronics through security? Share them in the comments below!

do I remove my laptop at airport security checks?

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Odette says

    This doesn’t apply just to electronics, but all things valuable. When I have more than one tray to be scanned, I wait until the person in front of me has their things going through the scanner, then I put my suitcase on the conveyor belt first, then my valuables in its own tray, then my shoes in a separate tray. I wait until they are all going through the scanner before I pass through the metal detector. By the time my suitcase comes through, I’m usually at the pickup area. I feel more secure that my valuables are not sitting there waiting for someone to grab them. Also, I’ve been told by TSA to carry my boarding pass through the metal detector. But this, too, probably varies by airport.

    • Brooke says

      Yes, never leave the belongings until they are all on their way through the scanner- great thinking! I’ve never carried my boarding pass through the scanner before, so it much vary by destination.

  2. Gaby says

    Security personell in Germany, and in fact in most of Europe, will require you to take out your laptop, tablet and e-reader so they can be screened seperately. Smart phones, however, can remain in the bag. I keep my electronic items in protective sleeves and usually it’s ok to leave these sleeves on. However, a few weeks ago, I have been asked to remove my laptop from its sleeve at a security check point, but that has never happened before or since (rookie staff member?). When it comes to a DSLR camera, occasionally they want you to take this out of the bag as well. I always just ask.

  3. Susan says

    I live in Vietnam and have traveled throughout the region. Japan (Narita Internationals) requires iPads to be removed from your bag. Everywhere else I have been, my iPad stays in my bag. My camera bag is a backpack, so it does not scream CAMERA! I usually keep this backpack inside a larger backpack, and have never had any problem in the US or abroad.

  4. Svenja says

    On our last trip from Germany to the US and back, security at Hannover airport made a fuss about my electronics and basically unpacked my whole carry-on after screening. As always, I had already put my laptop and liquids in an extra bin, but apparently the little pouch with my cables and chargers, as well as my SoniCare and the GoPro (oh, and my shampoo bar…) looked suspicious to the person manning the monitor.
    On the way back, security check at LAX was a breeze, I didn’t even have to take out my laptop and 3-1-1 baggie, as both were right on top of everything else in my bag.
    Generally, I have experienced checks in Germany (and at London Heathrow) to be very, very thorough, and checks in the US and in Scotland a lot more comfortable in terms of being able to use checkpoint-friendly bags.

  5. Patricia says

    I’m traveling to Uganda from Canada for 23 days.I want to take a new laptop as a gift for my sponsored son. What is the best way to pack this..do I say it’s my own personal laptop? Does it need to be activated? Will scanner pickup whether it’s never been used before? Any advice or travel trips greatly appreciated

    • Brooke says

      Since it’s an expensive piece of gear, we’d recommend packing in your carry-on. It shouldn’t matter that it’s not used or has never been turned on. Technically until it’s given to someone else, it is your laptop, right?

  6. mk says

    Try to look out for signs. Sometimes signs may say “Keep your laptops inside your bag,” or “Take your laptops out,” when you get into the line at security checks. Miami airport literally had the sign “Please remove any laptops out of bag,” and I did that just to get yelled at the security to keep it inside my bag lol. So it really depends. If it gets really really busy, sometimes or rarely, they will tell you to keep it inside the bag. Very annoying but oh well.

    • Sarah says

      I had the same thing happen to me on my last flight. The signs said keep all small electronics (phone, ipod, ereader, etc) in your bag. So I did. Then when I met the security staff member, she said no, take them all out! Make up your minds people!

  7. Yvette says

    When going through TSA, do you have to take out chargers too? Also, do you have to take everything out of your carry on?

  8. Grace F. says

    Next trip home, I’m considering taking my standalone computer with me, Bangkok to Seoul and then Detroit on to Kentucky. Not sure what to expect but plan to pack pretty much just it in my carry on bag. I have TSA-Pre but still not sure what to expect when clearing in Detroit, not sure if they have a TSA line through security there transferring from an international flight. Hoping for best.

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