Flying with too many electronics
April 19, 2022 4:41 PM   Subscribe

My family and I will be moving from the US to Europe in a couple of months. I'm trying to understand the best way to deal with expensive electronics while we fly without having to remove many things from our bags while juggling a toddler.

Thankfully, we'll be flying direct, so will only need to deal with this on one flight, at least initially.

We are two adults and one toddler, and in addition to the toddler, we'll have a few (4 or so) laptops, a couple of tablets, a Nintendo Switch, and a NAS with two HDDs. The thought of checking any of these and potentially losing the bag is difficult, and so I assume that I should carry them all on. But the the thought of navigating removing all of these items from our bags while juggling carry-ons and an energetic child also feels pretty difficult while taking our shoes off. In the past, I have flown by myself with a laptop, a tablet, and a Switch, and it was pretty cumbersome. Any suggestions on what to do here? What can I do in advance to make this not be so terrible?

Also, is there any risk of going through metal detectors or any other scanning system with any of these electronics?

posted by taltalim to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
Best answer: I think you should divide and conquer. At least until you have passed through security, all electronics should be the responsibility of one parent. Parent A shoves through all non-fussy luggage, their own (slip-on?) shoes, then goes through with toddler. Parent B, meanwhile, is disassembling the stroller (which you are definitely bringing, right? It’s so helpful in the airport) and sending it through. Parent A secures toddler in stroller and collects carry-on items as they come out. Parent B is slower and may need to let a few other people pass between while they remove electronics from bags and send them through.
posted by Night_owl at 4:55 PM on April 19, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You don’t have to remove electronics from your bag if you have TSA PreCheck. If the two of you are OK splitting up as you go through security, one of you can buy the $75 PreCheck membership and be the electronics mule. You can also keep your shoes on that way.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:09 PM on April 19, 2022 [17 favorites]

If you think this move is going to mean regular return visits to the U.S., get Global Entry (you'll need to apply tout suite, so you can do the interview in the U.S.). It includes PreCheck.
posted by praemunire at 5:46 PM on April 19, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I would do one backpack of all the electronics and the other parent handles the kids. Also wear slip on shoes, no belts, no metal stuff, etc, to make the undressing part fast.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:00 PM on April 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

I would strongly consider wrapping it all up carefully and paying extra for the airline to treat it as sensitive or delicate cargo, rather than personally carrying a NAS and four laptops through gate security; there's just no way to make that easy with a toddler in tow.
posted by mhoye at 7:20 PM on April 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing Precheck. I've flown with that level of electronics in a single carryon bag. They swab stuff in it down maybe one time in five but the good news from your perspective is that you aren't allowed to touch anything during that process so you'll be free to child wrangle.
posted by Candleman at 7:33 PM on April 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

I really encourage you to reconsider not checking some of this stuff. I’ve moved overseas and traveled overseas with kids a few times. I don’t think you should dedicate precious carry-on space to that much technology. It’ll be heavy and horrible.

What do you need on the flight and for your first few days? You’re going to want a few changes of clothes for the toddler and a few hygiene items and clean things for the adults. You need toddler snacks and comfort items. You want to be able to carry all this without being totally overloaded.

To convince yourself not to carry all this on: pack it up and walk around the house while you carry kiddo. It’ll be miserable.

I’ve checked an entire large Mac and laptops. Check and see how often luggage is actually lost by the airline you’ll be on. Lost luggage is less likely on a direct flight too.

Ask other expats about this. Don’t prioritize carrying expensive tech over comfort for kiddo.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:07 PM on April 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

You will not need most of that stuff on your trip. Carry only what you _absolutely_ have to have with you. Because you state you are _moving_ go to a shipping company that handles international shipping, or even a professional moving company, and pay to get the rest professionally packed, possibly crated and protected, and ship it to your destination. Pay for that to be insured against losss. Arrange for it to be in storage at that end until you call for it. You can ship it ahead of your trip to ensure it should be there when you arrive.

I think there's a company that does this 'ship it rather than take it to the airport' process, but I can't find the name of it right now.
posted by TimHare at 8:53 PM on April 19, 2022 [5 favorites]

Note that depending on the day and the particular baggage check agent and the phase of the moon, you may or may not be able to check laptops on account of the batteries.

Agree with everyone else who says "one parent takes care of kid, one parent handles tech," if you decide to carry, but really shipping with a moving company is the better choice.
posted by Alterscape at 8:59 PM on April 19, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: When my wife and I moved to Germany, we had a backpacks, and a carryon full of electronics. 3 laptops, Nintendo switch, kindle, 2 smartphones, a couple of NUCs, raspberry PIs, a NAS and 4 well-packed hard drives. Also some electronic music gear. Along with several SSDs and usb sticks. Xrays will not be an issue.

I had TSA PreCheck, and it was a non-issue outbound from the US. Germany was a different matter. I flew in to Frankfurt, and had to unpack and explain everything at Customs. This was very stressful, because we were rushed along and not really given a chance to repack well before the final, domestic flight in Germany. I got it all back together, but it was a PITA. Your specific destination may be less of an issue. There were no toddlers involved, so I can't speak to that.

I am glad that I lugged all of my electronics myself. My suitcases were pretty battered. I'm really glad I didn't put anything delicate in them. For everything else, I shipped 10 boxes via UPS. 3 of the boxes were destroyed in transit, and I lost some precious belongings. A moving company may very well be better, but I think the hassle of bringing everything onboard was worth it, for my own peace of mind.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 2:55 AM on April 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Nting pre-check or global entry if you have time. Customs might be harder and it's worth looking into requirements.

It's pretty unlikely any security screening hardware will damage anything. There's a non-zero chance a X-ray machine could flip a few bits in a solid state drive, but that's also true at a somewhat slower rate for cosmic rays when the thing is sitting on a desk, so I wouldn't worry. The metal detectors and mm-wave scanners won't do anything bad to them, though it's unlikely that will come up.

Another option is to mail them to yourself, especially if they are likely to cause problems with import limits. In many places you can avoid tariffs by declaring that the thing is a temporary loan and will be returned to its country of origin.
posted by eotvos at 7:22 AM on April 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all! Not carrying all of these electronics isn't an option, so we've opted for TSA pre-check, and splitting up with the little one. I know someone who has TSA pre-check and recently had to remove all of their electronics, and so hopefully this doesn't happen to us!
posted by taltalim at 9:52 AM on May 24, 2022

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