Why Do Laptops Get Special Attention at Airport Security?

?Shoes off, laptops out, liquids in zip lock bags, all in separate trays!? Frequent flyers know this drill by heart as they hear it every time they pass through an airport security check. However, if you travel rarely, you might be surprised by the procedures at these checks. Especially the rules around laptops can be confusing, but there are good reasons why these are in place.

You can bring multiple laptops through security and even have them in their own small case, but they cannot be in a backpack or carry-on. Depending on the country, you might be required to start it and the security agent might have a look into it. Additionally, they can only travel in a checked bag, if you remove the battery and have that in your hand luggage.

What can you expect at the airport security?

There is no need to extensively prepare for the airport security, if you plan enough time. There is always security staff that will give precise instructions on what to do. If you are unsure of items you packed, such as cameras, just ask. Most likely, they will tell you to unpack the laptop or tablet and put it in a separate tray. You may keep your laptop in a thin case, which is ?screening friendly?. Depending on the airport and if you are staff or have a special pre clearance, you might not even have to take out your laptop at all. However, that is very rare.

Some electronic devices, or the entire hand luggage for that matter, can be randomly chosen for additional screenings. For instance, a swab test can reveal traces of certain chemicals that can be found in explosives or even drugs. Fun fact: you might test positive for residuals of explosives just by using a common hand lotion that contains glycerin.

Why are laptops checked separately?

The reason why you have to take out your laptop is somewhat technical, but it makes sense. When the laptop is separated from the bag, the security agent has an unobstructed view on the scan and can make sure that there is nothing concealed in the laptop itself. Possible concealed items can include explosives, drugs or weapons. Obviously, these are not permitted on board of a commercial aircraft.

The other reason is that a laptop in a big carry-on might obstruct the view of the scan of things underneath the laptop. If you forget to remove it, they will likely ask you to do so and have everything scanned again. This will hold up the line of the security check and you will not make any new friends that day.

New 3D-scanners are currently being trialed that can scan hand luggage from all sides. Once these machines are approved, you might see a change in regulation that will allow you to keep all items in the carry-on, even liquids. However, there is no timeframe set for the approval. And even if they are approved, they first need to be installed in airports around the world.

Is it safe to bring laptops on a plane?

The short answer is yes. There is no real danger in doing so and it might be better than having it in your check in luggage, which might be thrown or dropped at some stage. The only threat for the plane itself is the lithium battery. In very rare cases they might overheat and start igniting, causing a fire. Cabin crew is trained in dealing with these kinds of emergencies and actually have special equipment just for that case.

Laptop airport security
Man Puts Digital Tablet Into Tray For Airport Security Check

As the flight attendants will tell you as either part of their welcome announcement or safety brief (of course you are paying full attention to this!), if one of your devices starts to be warmer than normal, you should immediately inform a flight attendant. They will deal with it according to the company procedures.

It is even allowed to bring multiple laptops or tablets on board, as some people might have a private one and one from work. Business travellers in particular have multiple devices on them when travelling.

Can you have laptops in your checked luggage?

You might want to avoid the fuss at the security check and just put your laptop in checked bag. Checking your laptop is only allowed, when you remove the battery and take that in your carry-on. Lithium batteries are not allowed to be in the cargo hold of an airplane.

You might have been on a flight, where they have asked people at the gate to have the carry-on put in the cargo hold due to available space on the plane. Next time you can try to refuse by saying that you have a laptop or tablet in there, which of course is not allowed in the cargo hold. It might just work.

Do you need to turn your laptop on?

When passing through security or at the boarding gate, you may be required to switch on your laptop or tablet. This is simply to check if it is working properly and as soon as they see the start-up screen, the security agents are satisfied and there is usually no need to even log in. That is, unless you give them a good reason to. However, even then they will not check the software or files on your devices. These checks are there to ensure that the laptops or tablets have all the components necessary to work, which leaves little space for concealed items as mentioned above.

Laptops and customs

When travelling abroad with a new laptop, you may be asked where you purchased it, provide proof of the purchase, and declare what you intend to do with it as you pass customs at your destination. This is to ensure that you are not illegally importing goods, which may need to be taxed upon entry. If you are only staying for a short period of time or are moving to a new country, you are usually exempt from these taxes. However, if you were to sell the laptop or give it to someone else, then you need to check the country?s policies on how much you are allowed to bring and what you need to declare at customs. If you fail to do so, you might face a hefty fine.

Can the scans damage laptops?

Unlike old film, laptops or any electronic devices are not sensitive to x-ray. So they should not be damaged by the security checks. This applies to all common electronics, such as tablets, phones, cameras, MP3-players, watches, hard and flash drives, as well as CDs, DVDs, and blu-rays.

All in all you can see, there are some rules when travelling with laptops, but it is very straight forward. It is even preferred to bring them on board. While a very small chance for overheating remains, the cabin crew is prepared to deal with it. So you can sort your holiday pictures on the flight home already.

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