How to protect your laptop and data when taking a flight
Posted by mandyf on December 14, 2012
It is common practice for a fair amount of flight passengers to travel with their laptop as a carry-on item. The reasons for this are many, but for the most part people like having their laptop available to them for work or entertainment while in transit, but the second biggest reason may be the possibility of theft. Like it or not, every year checked bags are stolen or otherwise lost and never returned or returned with less than they were packed with or damaged. If you are going to be flying and plan to bring along your laptop, here are commonsense rules to live by.
Never check your laptop through as a separate item – that is begging for it to be stolen or damaged. Likewise, do not place it in a bag you plan to check through. The reason for this is twofold, one being the increased risk of damage or loss, and the second being the battery. According to TSA guidelines, you cannot check a device using a lithium battery, or even a loose lithium battery, in your luggage. If you were to check your laptop through, you would first have to remove the battery and then carry it on the flight to be in accordance with TSA regulations.
When you go through security screening, it is standard procedure to check all laptops. Place your laptop in a bin by itself and keep it in your line of vision at all times. Take possession of your laptop as soon as is possible when it gets through screening – these are easy and somewhat anonymous items many thieves will target – and yes there are people bold/stupid enough to try to lift items at security checkpoints. If you are traveling as a group, have the first person going through screening go through with all of the laptops the group has. This helps make sure that by the time the last person is through, all of the laptops have been screened and have had eyes on them the whole time.
No matter where you are, keep your laptop with you. Do not leave your laptop unattended at any time. It only takes a quick run to the bathroom or walk around the departure terminal seating area for your laptop to be lifted. If you need to move around or go somewhere, take your laptop with you, or if with a group leave it with someone.
Now that you know the basics of maintaining possession of your laptop, what about your data? Almost all airports are equipped with wi-fi access everywhere you turn, and while it is fine to use that to go online, you need to be careful about what you do online. You should avoid doing any banking transactions online via wi-fi in an airport because the connection is not secure. Furthermore, although a bit extreme for some, it has been suggested that people not use their primary e-mail account where leads to sensitive information may be gleaned by less than scrupulous people. The odds are that you will be fine, by why take the risk?
Before traveling with your laptop it is further advised you backup all of your information and store it on a tower at home or other like device. If there is little data you are concerned about losing, a flash drive may prove sufficient. Most travelers have no problems with their laptop so far as security or loss of data goes when flying, but it never hurts to take a few precautions to lessen the odds you will be a person that does.