Most people travel with laptops in hand or checked luggage. But what some people don’t know is that if you pack your laptop incorrectly and don’t follow essential precautions, it could get lost, damaged, or stolen.
Are Laptops Allowed in Checked Luggage?
The TSA (Transport Security Agency) and most other airline regulators around the world allow you to pack laptops in hand and checked luggage. They’re treated as Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs), which are considered harmless on planes. There also aren’t any quantity restrictions, so you can bring many laptops if you want to.
But because laptops contain lithium batteries, there are some restrictions due to fire risks.
Although you can pack laptops in checked baggage, airlines recommend packing them in hand baggage whenever possible. When packed in checked bags, laptops have to be switched off and protected from damage (wrapped in soft clothing or put into a soft laptop sleeve).
Why Packing Your Laptop in Checked Luggage Isn’t 100% Safe
Laptops are fragile and valuable, and both of these things don’t mix well with checked baggage.
Your Laptop Could Get Damaged
The airline needs to load your checked bag on the plane and transfer it between many carts and belts, which involves throwing it from one place to another. When it’s stored on the airplane, most commonly many other bags are stacked on top of it. Both of these things could damage your laptop.
People have reported broken screens, touchpads, cracked frames, and other problems with their laptops after putting them in checked baggage.
It Could Get Stolen
Baggage handlers and airport security members have easy access to your checked bags. Dishonest ones sometimes make some side money by stealing perfume, laptops, jewelry, and other electronics from passengers’ bags. It’s especially common when flying through various third-world countries in South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
Your Checked Bag Could Get Delayed or Lost
Most of the time, lost luggage actually isn’t lost and is instead delayed by a few days. It happens due to connecting, rushed, and delayed flights. If your checked bag would be delayed, you’d have to live without your laptop for a few days, which could interfere with your work.
The Chances of Your Laptop Getting Damaged, Stolen, or Lost Are Low but Possible
Luggage Hero stated in their 2022 report that out of 105 million checked bags in the first quarter of 2022, 0.68 million were lost or delayed. It means that the chances of your luggage getting lost or delayed are 0.65%.
But, these numbers don’t include damaged items. I’d estimate that the chances of something happening with your laptop while it’s checked in are about 1% (1 out of every 100 flights). It’s a low chance, but laptops are expensive and contain important private data.
If Possible, Pack Your Laptop in Hand Luggage
15.6-inch and most 17-inch laptops are small enough to fit in your personal item. It’s included with all flights, free of charge, and offers much more protection from theft and damage compared to checked baggage. That’s why I always pack my laptop inside my personal item backpack together with my other valuables, fragile items, documents, and electronics.
If your personal item is full, you can also pack your laptop in your carry-on, which offers much more packing space. Hardside carry-ons also provide better protection from damage.
Both personal items and carry-ons are better options for packing your laptop compared to checked bags. That’s because they’re always close to you and they aren’t exposed to rough baggage handling conditions.
Other Tips for Traveling With a Laptop
- The security agents can ask you to turn on your laptop and check its contents. On international flights, security agents can search laptops, hard drives, and cell phones for illegal content. That’s why you should remove anything that could be identified as illegal (for example, pirated movies) before traveling.
- Faulty or modified electronics are banned from airplanes. At the security checkpoint, the agents are authorized to ask you to turn on your laptop to make sure that it’s working as intended. So remember to charge your laptop before going through security.
- Keep your laptop in a protective laptop sleeve. Even if you plan on packing your laptop in hand luggage, it’s advised to put it into a protective laptop sleeve. That’s because sometimes carry-ons have to unexpectedly be checked in at the gate due to the flight being overbooked. The laptop sleeve will keep your luggage protected from accidental damage during baggage handling. You could also keep it inside its original box.
- Back up your data before the flight. Theft is common even among hand luggage, especially in airports and cafes. So make sure to password-protect your laptop with a strong password and back up everything important that you don’t want to lose before the flight.
- Wireless mouses, headphones, keyboards, and external monitors are also allowed on planes. The rules for most consumer electronics are identical to laptops – they’re allowed in hand and checked baggage.
- Use a VPN for public WiFi, especially in airports, cafes, and hotels. Whenever you connect to a public WiFi, your connection can be intercepted and your data can get stolen by hackers. VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are software programs for your laptop. They encrypt your data so that if your connection is intercepted, no data can be stolen. So before setting out on your vacation, look for and download a trusted VPN app.
Summing Up: Traveling With Laptops
If you have some room left in your hand baggage, definitely pack your laptop in there instead of your checked bag. The chances of something happening to it while it’s checked are low, but you’ll be less stressed knowing that it’s more protected.
It’s especially important if you need your laptop to finish some work during your vacation. I usually travel with a laptop because I need it for work. One time my checked bag was delayed for 3 days, but luckily I had packed my laptop in my personal item, so it wasn’t a problem.