After the Laptop Ban

Opinion: It's probably just a matter of time before notebook computers are banned from all flights. Here are 10 tips for making a laptopless trip more enjoyable.

Remember when you were allowed to use your laptop on a plane? While we are not quite at that point yet, indications are that laptops—like pocket knives, shampoo and toothpaste—are about to join the banned club. Consider the following:

Some laptops are already banned by some airlines. Virgin, Qantas and Korean Air are already putting restrictions on Dell and Apple laptops. Laptops from those vendors have figured prominently in a recall of systems using Sony batteries and may present a fire hazard. Fliers must remove the laptop batteries, which means if they are not sitting at a seat with a power outlet, they will be out of luck. The BBC ran a story on Sept. 18 titled "Virgin Bans Fire Hazard Laptops." With that type of headline, can a total ban be far behind?

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead more here about the battery recalls.

The laptop problem may be extended to other vendors. Toshiba has alerted approximately 340,000 users (it was first incorrectly reported as a recall) that some battery packs may have a charge and discharge problem. In a far more dramatic situation, company officials at Lenovo are investigating a ThinkPad laptop that apparently had a meltdown at the Los Angeles airport in mid-September.

And finally, Gizmodo cites a report from The Wall Street Journal: "The use of laptop computers on airliners may be banned entirely because of a series of incidents involving overheated batteries, including a May 15 incident in which a laptop caught fire in an overhead luggage compartment as a Lufthansa airliner prepared to leave Chicagos OHare International Airport, The Wall Street Journal reported."

So, are you ready to live without your laptop during that six-hour flight across the United States? I am, and here are my 10 top tips for making that flight without your laptop, your carry-on water and your nifty hair gel more enjoyable.

1. You can still take your laptop on the plane. Youll still be able to use it plugged in at the departure lounge and if you have a power outlet while you are on the plane. Even in those limited situations you are better taking it with you than checking it in your baggage. In this era of stolen laptops and data, you dont want to compound the inconvenience of not using your laptop with the far bigger inconvenience of losing your job for losing your laptop. If you do check your laptop, make sure you have removed any valuable data and placed it encrypted on a USB drive that you take on the plane.

2. Upgrade your cell phone to a PDA that can do your e-mail. I was at the CTIA show in Los Angeles recently and the new phones from Nokia, Verizon and Sprint are far more capable than even a year ago. If you use your laptop essentially for e-mail, your phone will serve you fine.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about the new phones introduced at CTIA.

3. Buy a yellow legal pad. Before the laptop, businesspeople used to write down their thoughts and make their plans on a blue-ruled yellow legal pad. Youd be surprised how well this worked. There is nothing like a blank sheet of paper to force your concentration. It is really hard for the person next to you to see what you are writing, and you can write, draw org charts and scribble pictures far more easily than you can on your laptop.

4. Bring along a few sheets of accounting-ruled paper. Why? See No. 3.

5. Read a book. Probably the biggest mistake I see in this category are fliers wandering around the airport bookstore before a flight. With only a little preparation, you can go to library and get a book that relates to your profession as well as another book you always wanted to read but never found the time. The laptop vendors have found the time for you.

6. Buy a deck of cards. You might find this hard to believe, but originally solitaire was played with a deck of cards instead of on a laptop. The cards came in a small box and once removed could be shuffled any number of times. You arent restricted to only playing the goofy card games that are on your laptop, and there are many card games that involve more than just a single player. Youll be amazed.

7. Buy a travel chess set. For you higher-level thinkers, chess—just like cards—was not always played solely on a computer.

8. Music. I think iPods, MP3 players and other music systems will avoid the ban. Im not positive here, but make sure you download your favorite music before you remove that laptop battery.

9. Audio. My library now allows users to download audio books on tape from its Web site. Companies such as allow the same thing for a fee.

10. Write a letter to the airline. If you fly an airline such as JetBlue, you can now watch television all the way across the United States. What about using the screen as a thin client and using a vendor such as Citrix to shuttle down a browser to each flyer willing to pay $10 for browser access? In this era of browser-based computing and airlines always looking for new revenues, figuring out how to get individual browser access makes more sense than trying to get batteries back in laptops once they are banned.

eWEEK Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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