50 Ways to Lose Your Laptop

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2006-08-25 Print this article Print

Opinion: Sure, you can protect your laptop computer from damage, but that doesn't mean you'll ever see it again. What are some options?

When I wrote about ways to protect your laptop if you needed to ship it as checked luggage, one assumption I made was that no one would do this if they had a choice. But with restrictions on luggage between the United Kingdom and the United States a few days ago, it seemed like a good bet that such a thing could happen. Fortunately, those restrictions were eased, so as long as personal hygiene isnt too important, travel is back to normal. Of course, if you plan to use deodorant, shave, wash your hair or brush your teeth while youre gone, then checked-luggage rules still have a certain charm. But one thing I didnt think of is that people might actually check their computers as luggage on purpose. Turns out, some people do.
I also didnt think about the problem that your efforts to preserve the integrity of your computer might just mean that a luggage thief will get your property in pristine condition. Theft, it seems, is alive and well in Americans airports. As reader Jim Wilder put it, how do you know that when you get your case, the laptop will still be inside?
How indeed? For that matter, how do you know that even the case will arrive? Reader Tony Higgins pointed out that about a third of all checked bags containing scuba equipment that pass through the Miami airport go missing. He said the Miami police are remarkably ineffective at finding this expensive gear. And he noted that something as portable and easily sold as a laptop is at least as likely to disappear. He has a point. Higgins also said he agrees with what he saw in last weeks article about Pelican cases, saying hes been using them for 25 years. Reader John Van Zant said the worst loss of all is the theft of time. He pointed out that not only do you lose 45 minutes waiting for your bags to arrive (he must fly from a more efficient airport than I do) but you also lose productive time waiting for your flight. Thats two or three hours of lost productivity for each flight, even if you dont normally work during the flight. Click here to read more reader reactions and advice about checking laptops. But suppose your laptop actually vanishes? Reader Elliot Abrams, an AccuWeather weather broadcaster here in Washington, had that happen. Abrams was flying from Atlanta on a commuter flight, and realized that you really cant carry a computer on board such a flight. You can either leave your briefcase at the side of the plane, or you can check it. He figured that it made little difference, so he checked his Apple laptop. This turned out to be a good move for Abrams. When he landed, Abrams found that the laptop that had been in his luggage was missing. It took a protracted battle with US Air to get reimbursed, but he finally was. Later, he received an e-mail from Apple Computer letting him know that they were shipping out a power supply. When his laptop was stolen, the AC supply wasnt taken, so he figured that the person who took it had done the ordering. With some smart detective work, Abrams located the missing laptop. But why was it a good thing that he checked it as luggage? Because then US Air had to reimburse him. As Ive found out more than once, just because youve left your bag at the side of the plane doesnt mean it will be there waiting when you land. In fact, Ive spent more time searching for misplaced "carry-on" luggage than I would have spent waiting for it to arrive on the luggage carousel. And would the airline have reimbursed me for lost items? Are you kidding? Reader Jay Wilmer suggested that the airlines could offer travelers a new service—a means of checking valuable items in special locked containers, which would then be returned to travelers in baggage claim. Perhaps he has a good idea, although you can bet the cash-starved airlines would charge for it. But that might be better than the experience one reader had when he tried to use an overnight shipper as a way to avoid the problems of checking delicate items as luggage. His items were lost three times in a row. His solution? Stick with the U.S. Postal Service. I guess there you get the service you expect. The only real solution is to make sure that you dont have anything important on your laptops hard disk unless its encrypted. In addition, use a package like Lojack for Laptops that might help you recover your missing property. And finally, make sure you back up your computer, so if it is lost or destroyed during travel, at least you dont lose the part thats really valuable—your data. Senior Writer Wayne Rash is a longtime technology writer and journalist based in Washington, D.C. Hes the author of four books related to technology. He can be reached at wayne_rash@ziffdavis.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.
Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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