Product review - Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer TSA friendly laptop bag
Back in August, the Transportation Safety Administration relaxed its rules for getting your laptop through the security checkpoint.
Essentially, the rules say that a laptop can stay in its bag, as long as the X-Ray machine has a clear and unobstructed view of the computer. There can be no pockets, zippers or items blocking its view of what is inside the laptop.
Several manufacturers immediately announced that they would have their own TSA friendly bags on shelves within a few months.
The first of them to actually deliver on that promise, is Tom Bihn with the new Checkpoint Flyer. Tom Bihn is not your average luggage company. For starters, they still make their bags in the United States, Tom Bihn himself is in charge of designing them, and they are hand made in their Seattle factory. The end result is something unlike any bag I've ever seen.
The Checkpoint Flyer comes in three color combinations and three sizes;
The different sizes are designed based on the Apple Macbook dimensions of 13, 15 and 17 inches. Fear not though, because these sizes mean the bag will fit virtually any laptop on the market, and I had no problem fitting a "normal" 15" Dell inside it.
The bag has 2 pockets on the front, 2 on the back, a cavernous storage pouch (with 2 internal pockets) and of course, the special laptop portion. The rear pocket zips open on the bottom for sliding it over the handles of a rolling suitcase.
To open the bag for inspection, you simply unclip to latches on the bottom, and flip the entire laptop bag out. Tom Bihn really found the perfect and most efficient way to do this, because in the few attempts I made, I was able to open the bag in a matter of seconds. The laptop portion of the bag stays secure when you carry it, because its handle slips through a slot in the top of the bag, becoming the second handle on the top. Yes, the description sounds complicated, but I can assure you it is something you can do without needing a manual. Tom Bihn have made a short video clip on their site outlining the steps for opening the bag.
As I mentioned earlier, the quality of the bag is simply amazing. I always considered myself a bit of a laptop bag "snob", and have regularly purchased expensive bags to protect my goodies, but none of them are as well designed and well made as the Checkpoint Flyer. All the zippers on the top are splashproof thanks to special YKK zippers. The material feels bulletproof and I absolutely adore the color combination (I have the crimson/black version).
Of course, the real test happens at the airport, and I am happy to report that things actually went smooth; on a flight from Chicago to Amsterdam the bag unfolded and went through the X-Ray machine without any TSA agents yelling and screaming. And to be honest, it wasn't the bag I was fearing, it was lack of training of the TSA agents. Thankfully most of them seem to have received the memo, and the bag was able to pass security without running the risk of losing a laptop. Unfortunately, the airport sterile zone is not the kind of place where you can pull out your camera and photograph what is happening, so you'll have to settle for some photos made on my patio.
Of course, the new regulations are not just for our enjoyment, a recent report claims that passengers at US airports lose almost 12,000 laptops every single week, and while I personally doubt those claims a little, laptops DO get left behind at the X-Ray machine more often than in the past when they could just stay in their bag.
The Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer costs $220. When you purchase the bag, you'll want to add some accessories. The bags are currently on pre-order, but these orders are shipping out fairly quickly.
The bag does not come with a shoulder strap, so be prepared to add an additional $20 or $30 to the purchase price depending on the version of strap you order. On the bag I reviewed, I tested the "Absolute Shoulder Strap". This simple looking strap has a stretchy shoulder pad, which acts as a shock absorber, greatly reducing the load on your shoulder.
Other accessories to consider are the Tom Bihn "Horizontal Freudian Slip" ($35). This insert increases the number of pockets in the bag including space for pens, folders and electronic gadgets. When you arrive at your destination, or simply need access to some of your items at the airport, you can pull the entire slip out of the bag.
Finally, Tom Bihn also has 2 different packing cubes ($18 each or $30 for the pair). While these may also be of the same excellent quality of the rest of the items, I'm not sure the price can be justified unless you are going for an "all Tom Bihn" look for your bag. The cubes are quite handy though, and they hold a large amount of stuff which is especially handy for bundling your cords or other loose items.
My conclusion is simple; this is a fantastic bag. It holds all the stuff I carry, and I don't have to keep a constant eye on a $2500 laptop leaving my sight in a plastic tub. I'm absolutely in love with the style and the attention to detail Tom Bihn has put into designing it. There is no denying that $220 (plus some more for the accessories) is more than many people are willing to spend on a laptop bag, but if you are a frequent traveler, you'll want to seriously consider investing in a bag that can speed things up at the checkpoint, and make you look cool at the same time.
Filed under: Gadling Gear Review