A few days after officials in the United Kingdom apprehended several suspects involved in a plot to blow up airplanes en-route to the United States, I found myself waiting in a security line waiting to board a flight of my own. Since I was only flying from Denver to Kansas City, I didnit have to deal with the U.K. restriction of no electronics or other carry on items, but I did have to rethink how I travel with the collection of devices that I need to be able to do my job.
The days of flying with everything I need in carry on luggage - clothes, toiletries, computer - are long gone. The new restrictions that include no liquids, toothpaste, hairspray, or gels in carry on luggage have ensured that those days will never return. With some advanced planning, however, you can help minimize potential headaches at security check points and cut down on wait times.
Hereis my advice, all based on experience, for travelers that need to take their tech gear with them.
If you have time to think through what you really need to take with you, the likelihood of traveling with something thatis now considered contraband goes way down. Not all airports have addressable mailers at the security gates so that you can mail home the CyberTool you forgot to take out of your carry on bag.
Iive stripped down what goes into my carry on to my PowerBook, its power supply, my iPod and earbuds, my Palm, any business and travel documents I may need, and a magazine. Since toothpaste is now forbidden, I make sure I have a couple Oral-B Brush-Ups in my bag, too.
Carry on electronics that are easy to pocket or are important.
Even though I probably wonit be able to use the power supply with my PowerBook in flight, it stays with me. If my luggage gets lost, I really donit want to go buy another. I keep a magazine with me because itis nice to have a little diversion that doesnit drain your batteries when your flight gets delayed.
The rest of my tech gear goes into my suitcase. That includes my Ethernet and USB cables, video adapters, and all of the other assorted add-ons that go along with my PowerBook. Even if I lose that stuff, I can function. Without my laptop, Iim dead in the water.
Pack tech gear thatis easier to replace in your checked luggage.
Check your airlineis Web site to see if your flight is on time. If you are running late, itis better to know ahead of time that your plane is taking off ten minutes early. Trust me: It happens.
Check the Transportation Security Administration Web site in the United States, or the Department of Transport Web site if you are in the United Kingdom to see if there are any new restrictions before you fly. As of now, the guidelines for travelers can change daily.
Itis always possible that your laptop will get damaged or stolen while you are traveling, so be sure to back up your important data before you go. I backup my Address Book and iCal data, Safari bookmarks, and any other files that are essential for my trip to my .Mac account before I leave. That way, I can access the information from any Mac in a pinch.
I also backup my entire PowerBook with the backup system in my office, and if Iim going somewhere to speak or teach a class, copies of my seminar or lesson files get stored on my iPod and on CD or DVD.
At the Airport
Checking in for your flight can be a real pain, and sometimes takes far longer than you planned for. Check in online before you leave for the airport, and remember to print out your boarding pass. When you get to the airport, most airlines have special lines for people that already have their boarding pass and just need to check luggage. That can easily save you thirty minutes.
In the United States, you are innocent until proven guilty... except at airport security check points. The most innocent of actions can cause unexpected delays. Case in point: Donit wear lotions to the airport. The chemicals set off bomb detectors, and anything thatis on your hands gets transferred to your bags, too.
If bomb-making chemicals are detected on you or your luggage, expect to get shuffled off for bomb swabbing. Everything in your bags is coming out for all the world - or at least everyone else in line - to see, and youill probably go through some questioning, too.
Drop your cell phone and any other items that are in your pockets into your jacket or carry on bag before going through security. If you have to dump everything out of your pockets in a rush, youire more likely to forget or lose something. And donit forget that you arenit the only person in line. Since your laptop canit be in your luggage when it goes through the security scanner, try to have it out and ready ahead of time.
Wear shoes that donit require lacing. Your footwear has to come off anyhow, so slip-on shoes are faster and more convenient when going through security.
If you are traveling with someone else, make sure that the person going through security first is watching your laptop. Security check points feel like the least secure part of an airport to me. My laptop, carry on bag, and shoes are out of my sight and control as I go through screening. Anyone can grab something and slip away unnoticed, so watch your travel buddyis gear.
Once I clear security, my cell phone, Palm, and iPod all go back into my pockets. Even if I donit use any of them on my flight, I know exactly where they are.
On Your Flight and Beyond
If you plan on using your laptop in flight, shut off Bluetooth and AirPort before you get on the plane. Also, slide your laptop into the under seat storage before taking off. Sometimes flight attendants move luggage around in the overhead compartments, so your computer bag may not be where you left it. Rooting through those bins in the air can be a pain, especially if there is some turbulence.
After retrieving your luggage from a U.S. flight, you may find a little note from FirstLine Transportation Security inside. If so, your suitcase was opened and physically inspected. This is exactly why I donit pack anything into my checked luggage that I canit afford to lose.
Yes, there is always the small possibility of a not-so-honest employee pocketing some of your possessions, but an honest employee could also accidentally drop something that doesnit make it back into your bag. Either way, you just lost something, and itis never convenient to deal with that when you are traveling.
There was a time when "reasonable suspicion" and "probable cause" were terms associated with searching personal property and invading our privacy in the United States. Thatis no longer the case when you fly, so be sure you donit pack anything you donit want anyone else to see.
Even though government and airline restrictions have changed how we pack and plan before flying, itis still one of the fastest and safest ways to travel. By preparing ahead of time, itis much easier to keep your Mac, and the rest of your tech gear, in sight and under your control.