Tuesday, December 9, 2008

TSA “approved” bags are nice, but here’s why I’m sticking with my old carry-on

TSA-approved security checkpoint bags are finally shipping. This is a little off the beaten path concerning Travel Photography, but many of us carry our laptops for travel storage, viewing and editing of our photos while away from home and office, so I thought I'd talk about the new security checkpoint bags. I wouldn't be surprised that soon there will be some photo gear bags which can hopefully breeze through security. I hope they are better than these bags.

I’ve had a chance to check out two of them; the Targus Zip-Thru Corporate bag, and the Skooba Checkthrough bag. Briefly, I like the Targus bag a bit better than the Skooba bag, but neither would move me to stop using my Skooba MegaMedia Bag.

CNet.com says the Skooba Checkthrough bag has “plenty of organizer pockets; … sturdily constructed; well-thought-out design …” but it’s “expensive; bulky; when fully loaded, may be too heavy to carry on one shoulder or briefcase-style.”

As someone who carries the larger MegaMedia bag on my shoulder, I have no problem with the bulk or weight of the loaded Checkthrough bag. One of the bag’s problems, in my opinion, is that there isn’t quite enough room in the bag to take my laptop and accessories, plus a small point-and-shoot camera and accessories, plus papers and other materials for my business meetings.

I don’t like the interior storage area for my business papers. The area is pretty tight, and has no divider. I like an exterior storage area because it’s easier to stuff extra items in it, as you can bulge out the side, and you don’t have to disturb your equipment to get to your papers.

CNet.com says the Targus Zip-Thru, has a “well-padded laptop compartment; may speed your way through airport-security checkpoints,” but “the TSA agent may force you to take your laptop out anyway … [it's] less roomy than it looks.”

I found the corporate version of the bag roughly equivalent to the size of the Skooba Checkthrough. Like the Skooba, there isn’t enough storage for me. The area for business papers is larger in this bag, and has a divider, which is good, but like the Skooba bag, it still isn’t on the exterior of the bag, where I prefer it.

Unlike the Skooba bag, which reveals the laptop behind a clear panel, the Targus bag doesn’t, but TSA’s idea behind these bags is that the laptop is alone in a compartment, with nothing below or above it, while it goes through X-ray. The Targus bag accomplishes that task.

There is a problem with both bags, however, which could require secondary screening when used. On the Targus site, they warn you to avoid stacking electronic items in your bag, and keep your bag as uncluttered as possible.

In my opinion, the design of the pockets and compartments in both bags literally force electronics stacking and clutter, unless you really pack light. I’ve been caught for that a few times, and had my bag hand searched.

When your accessories are stacked in layers, when X-rayed, agents can’t view individual gear items. My MegaMedia bag normally has enough room and an organization which permits me to spread my accessories out better than these bags, and I don’t mind removing my laptop from the bag for inspection, so I’m sticking with it.

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