Opinion: New air travel safety concerns have made it more likely that you'll have to send your laptop as checked luggage.
The threat was terrorism, so its understandable why passengers on some trans-Atlantic flights suddenly found themselves trying to find a way to stash their electronics, including their laptop computers, iPods, cell phones and BlackBerry devices, into their checked luggage.
Some of those items, such as cell phones, will travel fine there, but others, notably your laptop computer, arent designed to handle the stress of luggage handlers and baggage sorting machines.
Your chances of getting your laptop back intact arent exactly great.
Unfortunately, whether due to security concerns, or simply concerns that your laptop might decide to spontaneously combust in the overhead luggage compartment, theres a reasonable likelihood that at some point, youll need to check your laptop with the rest of your luggage when you fly.
But what to buy? I asked someone who should know, David Sebens, the vice president of marketing for Zero Halliburton, the makers of those legendary aluminum cases you see in the spy movies.
"What you need is a lockable, hard case," Sebens said. He said that its possible that a semi-rigid or soft case could work.
"It should have high-density, high-impact foam so you could drop it from a height of 4 to 6 feet," he added.
"The durability of the case is really important," Sebens said.
"Youd look for a reliable manufacturer, for component strength, warranty and quality of construction," he said.
Sebens said that while everyone is worried about weight in luggage, when youre looking for protection, that may not be the best idea.
"Some strong materials weigh more than a less-durable combination of materials," he said.
Sebens said that if a company were going to try to select a standard case, independent testing should be a critical part of the selection process.
In order to get a little more insight on these cases in the real world, I went over to PhotoCraft, which is where I buy my camera gear.
There I talked with company vice president Eldar Tariverdi, who seemed to have a lot of good ideas on how to protect expensive, fragile stuff, including my laptop.
Tariverdi suggested some case manufacturers that he thought would meet my needs.
I borrowed cases from three well-known vendors of protective shipping cases to see just how well they would work.
In the process, I took the cases out to Washington Dulles International Airport for trial runs, and to ask the Skycaps and baggage handlers what they thought.
By the time I finished, it became clear that ruggedness and utility win out if you want maximum protection for your gadgets.
This means that Storm Case
from Hardigg Industries and Pelican cases
would be good choices for day to day, extensive travel with delicate equipment including your laptop.
The cases from both of these companies can be locked using a variety of means, including built-in locks and external padlocks or zip ties.
The built-in locks dont yet meet TSA specifications because they cannot be opened using the TSA master key.
However, the added locking tabs mean you can use a TSA-approved padlock.
The Zero Halliburton
cases are by far the best looking.
Their polished aluminum sides and chrome fixtures gleam beautifully.
Everyone will know that you have something beyond the ordinary. And they appear to be plenty tough enough to survive the attacks of the baggage handlers and the sorting machines.
The problem is that despite Zero Halliburtons claims that their cases are the answer to checking your laptop, their locks dont meet TSA requirements.
Worse, there is no way to secure a secondary lock. So if you check your laptop in a Zero Halliburton case, itll have to stay unlocked unless you can find a way to secure it. The company says that a TSA-approved lock should be ready in the near future.
None of these cases are cheap, nor are they particularly light. But thats the price you pay for protection.
There are cases out there that purport to be both cheap and light, but as Sebens said when he discussed those, "you get what you pay for."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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