U.S. airport security issues?
December 12, 2003 6:49 PM   Subscribe

Will I have troubles with U.S. airport security if I bring along an old funky laptop? [more inside] Also, have you had any troubles with airport security this holiday season?

I have a recently-obtained older PB 1400 that I'd like to bring along on my travels. The battery is dead and thus I must use the power adapter (thus I can't have it waiting in suspend/sleep). There are a few times I even have troubles getting it to turn on at all (although hitting the tiny reset switch on the back usually helps). Is proving that it's a legit laptop going to cause lots of delays at the line? I fear them taking it away from me for good.

And as a minor side question, have you had recently troubles with other items at the checkpoint? I'd also like to travel with an old portable manual typewriter as a carry-on, but I don't think that would be allowed.
posted by gluechunk to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
I have never been asked to prove my laptop is real and/or functional, only to run it through the X-ray. Occasionally, my UFO-shaped iBook power adapter gets a second look, but that's about it.

I can't imagine the typewriter, suitably bagged, would give you any grief either. Of course, it did inspire rather silly hypothetical images to come to mind of someone attempting to hijack an airliner with such a thing. "Get back! He's got a Smith-Corona!"
posted by bradlands at 6:55 PM on December 12, 2003

I've been asked once to turn a laptop on, several years ago, but it was a laptop from work that I'd never used and I fumbled around not knowing how to turn it on (I ended up hitting the button to eject the battery instead of the power button) and the checker just let it go. Now that they require laptops to be taken out of the bag I don't think they're going to ask you to turn it on unless they spot something when scanning it.
posted by gyc at 7:12 PM on December 12, 2003

Never had a problem, nor been asked to turn it on, and I've flown 4 times in the past 2 months. Just take it out of its bag, put it in its own bin, and you're set.

Might as well take off your shoes and belt and throw them in a bin, too. Saves you the hassle of beeping, and then getting wanded and patted down.
posted by gramcracker at 7:17 PM on December 12, 2003

gluechunk - I'm responding to this mainly because I like your Metafilter name, given that I've dealt with many gluechunks in my brief time on this earth........

Why not send your portable typewriter to the luggage compartment of your plane? - it's a sufficiently odd item that security folks might be concerned that you could pull out the keys and turn them into weapons. Or you could use it as a blunt instrument of attack....."I was typewriter'd !"

But I doubt the laptop will cause you any problems.
posted by troutfishing at 7:32 PM on December 12, 2003

Never been asked to prove my laptop's a laptop.

I, too, am wondering about holiday travel, as I will be doing it myself soon. Anyone had problems carrying tennis racquets in the backpack-style racquet bags?
posted by somethingotherthan at 8:08 PM on December 12, 2003

troutfishing, the typewriter thing is more of a hypothetical situation right now, but 1) I never check in baggage, just use carry-on, and 2) What if I want to type while sitting around at the gate?
posted by gluechunk at 8:40 PM on December 12, 2003

I've been asked quite a few times to turn on a laptop. As a matter of fact I'm having trouble remembering a recent flight out of the US where I didn't have to do that. They were always satisfied with the screen showing something; they didn't care to see it boot into the OS. I now wonder if this is because I or my laptop looks shady.

That said I imagine if you explained your situation nicely everything should be fine. Those xray things are supposed to detect if the laptop is just stuffed with something else anyway.
posted by neustile at 9:32 PM on December 12, 2003

I've had this happen when I was returning from Beijing. I have a relatively new laptop, and they asked me to open it, turn it on, swabbed the surfaces with some unclean looking sponge on a stick (which left a nice residue, yum!) and told me like, "wait ten seconds before you leave" in a really serious tone. It was kind of creepy, actually.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 1:24 AM on December 13, 2003 [1 favorite]

Wow, you're lucky. Every time I fly through San Francisco, Chicago or Atlanta I'm asked to turn on my laptop. Also, about a year ago at Chicago O'Hare the security man lifted it up to hand it to me and promptly dropped it on the floor, shattering the DVD drive.

I filed a complaint and all that, but I never did hear from them. So don't let them touch it (in fact they're not supposed to).
posted by LukeyBoy at 2:03 AM on December 13, 2003

I have never had to turn my laptop on, and I travel with all sorts of crapped-out old laptops. That said, you might have to, but I think if you make your best effort, it is likely not to be a problem. Typewriter should be okay but you would increase your chances by putting it in a typewriter carrier so it would look more official. Worst case they will ask you to check it and unless that is a deal-breaker for you and your trip that's not a bad worst-case scenario. I find that the more compliant you seem and the less you have to say, the better it normally works. I always try to get through there saying as few words as possible and just shuffling through all the steps of removing my metal, removing my boots,walking back and forth through the metal detector, showing all my ID information over and over. You could also go the pro-active route and spoecifically ask someone at the airline beforehand "I need to travel with my typewriter as a carry-on, that will be okay, right?" and that will give you more leverage than if you just show up with it.
posted by jessamyn at 6:16 AM on December 13, 2003

gluechunk, I find that security in the US really varies from airport to airport. I fly out of Denver a lot and I've never really had any problems. That said, other airports can be a pain; I had my iBook checked at Syracuse NY by folks who couldn't find the latch to open it, and once they did were prodding and poking it for a while without figuring out where the on switch was, while I had about 3 minutes to get to the gate. Also you could get caught at a gate where they are training TSA staff, meaning they go through everything on the x-ray and in your carry-on veeeery sloooowly, as happened to me in Miami recently (although I was watching them search my roller and they actually did it very badly).

Also, what jessamyn said. I find it helps when standing in the security line to mentally rehearse giving them everything (i.e. removing lappie from bag and placing in one tray, putting wallet/keys/belt/tin of mints/jacket/baseball cap in another, shoes in another, etc.). This stops you getting flustered/frustrated at the actual checkpoint.
posted by carter at 9:08 AM on December 13, 2003

In all my west coast flights, I recall having to prove that laptops were real by turning them on and cellphones were real by showing the screens to a person only back in 2001. I think when TSA took over the security duties in 2002 things got more standardized. Now I just have to separate my laptop for security scanning in the xray machine and no one has asked about my cellphone.

I'd guess I haven't had to turn a laptop on in at least a year and a half of flights.
posted by mathowie at 9:31 AM on December 13, 2003

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