Review: Travelon TSA-approved Checkpoint Friendly laptop bags

What is it about airports that bring out the worst in humanity? Is it waiting in long, arbitrary lines?  Is it being forced to reveal to everyone the holes in your socks?  Is it the $100 beers at the airport bar?  I try pretty hard to be a “good citizen” when I travel: my carry-on luggage doesn’t exceed the maximum dimensions permitted by the airline; I make sure I put all of my metal objects through the x-ray machine; and I try to make sure I can whip out my laptop to send through the x-ray machine separately from the bag in which I carry it.

Travelon has recently released its own line of TSA-approved Checkpoint Friendly laptop bags, designed to make it easier to get through the security screening without having to unpack your entire kit.  I admit that when I received my review models I exclaimed “WTF?”.  At first glance, it doesn’t look like these things will actually save any time.  But for you, dear reader, I put myself through the indignities of airport security to provide an accurate review of these bags.

The bags themselves are pretty nondescript, and look like just about every other laptop bag on the planet.  The fabric is rugged, and the overall construction seems solid. There’s ample padding for the laptop pocket, so your precious computer should sit fairly comfortably through the jolts and jostles of air travel. The backpack model has a nice criss-cross design for the shoulder straps, which surprisingly helps distribute the weight better, making it less uncomfortable to lug your laptop between terminals.  Interestingly, this design makes it less comfortable to hang the bag from a single shoulder.

The backpack model has another minor shortcoming, in my opinion: the largest pocket isn’t very deep.  You can fit your cables easily enough, but I could not, for example, comfortably fit the body of my Canon DigitalRebel XT camera.  Don’t expect to use this bag for much more than your laptop and necessary peripherals: it’s not a general purpose bag.

The gimmick on the entire line of Travelon Checkpoint friendly bags is a sleeve attached to a tether that sits inside the laptop compartment.  So you place your laptop into the sleeve, and then place the sleeve inside the pocket.  At airport security, you pull out the sleeve containing your laptop, and slide the bag plus sleeve through the scanner together.  This gives the TSA screeners an unobstructed view of your laptop, and also keeps your laptop close to your bag.

As I said, I didn’t see this saving me a whole lot of time.  But at the security gate, I found it wonderfully convenient to keep the laptop tethered to the bag: when I cleared the screening, I was able to pick up the sleeve by its handle, and carry both it and the bag to which it was attached a comfortable distance away to put on my shoes and gather up my junk.  I didn’t have to stand there at the end of the conveyor belt making a fool of myself with handfuls of loose, miscellaneous stuff.

On the backpack and briefcase models I received, the laptop sleeve could be unzipped from its tether, allowing you to use it separately from the main bag.  This might be handy in some situations.  Also available from Travelon is just a sleeve, which you might put into an existing laptop bag.  Be sure to watch the video review, below, to see what’s so special about this sleeve!

In addition to the minor complaints already made, I have two other beefs against these products.  First, they’re made in China.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not some die-hard anti-globalization America First! nutcase.  But I would like to see American manufacturing deal with the largely American problem of insane airport security processes.  Second, the TSA screeners have pretty much carte blanche authority to inspect any bag they want, at any time.  So even if you shell out big bucks for a fancy “TSA Checkpoint Friendly” approved bag, the TSA can still make you remove your laptop.

Bottom Line

These are good quality laptop bags that provide a surprising level of convenience to the frequent traveller.  It’s not likely to be your go-to bag for quick trips around town, but it will be the bag you want to take with you on a flight.

The Funny

Inside the laptop sleeve is a warning, admonishing you to follow the TSA screener’s directions since they can still require you to remove your computer from the sleeve.  You are also cautioned not to place anything on top of the laptop that might obstruct the x-ray view.  No paperwork, cords, accessories, or Les.  Poor, poor Les — always getting stuffed into laptop bags.