Waiting in those long airport security lines gives you plenty of time to think—and worry about turning your valuable electronics over to the TSA. Could you lose all of your vacation photos? Will your working vacation be foiled by a smashed laptop? Read on for our top five tips on how to keep electronics safe while traveling ... plus one piece of advice in case it all goes wrong.
Request a Hand Inspection
John Christopher, Senior Data Recovery Engineer with DriveSavers, tells us, "According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)'s website, neither airport X-ray machines nor other screening equipment create a magnetic pulse that could harm digital equipment. However, the TSA does state that the X-ray screening equipment may damage film with an ASA/ISO of 800 or higher. So in order to keep your film safe, remember to never place undeveloped film in your checked baggage. Be sure to secure your film in your carry-on bag and request a hand inspection prior to the screening." Christopher also points out that smaller airports may use older scanners (or international airports may have different equipment). If you're unsure that you can safely send electronics through an X-ray, be sure to ask airport security for a hand search. The TSA also recommends that you put your film in clear canisters or clear plastic bags in order for easier inspection.
Choose the Right Case (and Know the Unknown Rules)
Don't risk dropping your laptop as you struggle to take it out of the case for inspection. Invest in a checkpoint-friendly laptop bag (click here for TSA-approved styles), and your laptop should sail through security smoothly. Also be aware that you do not have to take certain electronics out to be screened separately; you can leave your iPad, MP3 player, cell phone, and Kindle in your carry-on, keeping them hidden from thieving eyes. And never remove any electronics from your carry-on (except for laptops in nonapproved cases) without being asked by security. Every item you take out is one that you'll have to remember to retrieve as you're rushing to put your shoes, belts, and jewelry back on.
The TSA will not reimburse you for electronics or other fragile items that were damaged in checked baggage. Never check your electronics in your luggage: They are highly likely to be broken during loading and offloading—or even stolen. The good news is, the TSA says that on most flights, you're allowed one extra carry-on item of photographic equipment in addition to your carry-on suitcase and personal item. (Double-check with your airline before flying.)
Flying with a partner? Team up to make sure your electronics join you on the other side of the X-ray. Send one person through the body scanner and metal detector while the second person waits a few places behind you in line with all of your valuables. Then the first person can watch the electronics come through in case the second person is selected for additional screening, keeping laptops, cameras, and other valuables safe from sticky fingers at the checkpoint.
Careful on the Conveyor Belt
Always put your laptop and any other electronics you have in their own bins. The person behind you in line may hate you for hogging all the bins, but it makes it easier for the TSA to screen your items. Plus, piling bags, jackets, or even keys atop delicate electronics is a surefire way to damage them.
If All Else Fails
Know that you have rights if your electronics have been damaged by the TSA. Take pictures of broken equipment, save repair receipts, and keep your tickets. Then head to the TSA's website to download a claims package form to get financial compensation.
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