Dear TSA – MacBook Air & iPad In The Bag Or Out?

It is hard to believe I have been traveling with an iPad for well over half-a-year now and an 11″ MacBook Air for more than a month. Both of these travel tools have changed how I work on the road and how I pack … but both tools present a consistent problem at the start of my journeys.

The problem is this … do I keep the iPad and MacBook Air in my bag at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoints, or do I take them out?  The TSA has clearly stated that both the iPad and the MacBook Air can stay in the bag … but in practice at the airport I have consistently encountered inconsistencies of the TSA’s policy on allowing these devices to remain in the bag.

The TSA’s policy that some computers can stay in a bag, while others must be removed, is not only confusing to many travelers, but it is clearly confusing to the agency’s Transportation Security Officers (TSO) as well.  The TSA’s rationale is that computers, or devices, with solid state hard drives may remain in a bag, while those with non-solid state hard drives must be removed from the bag.

As more computers are offered with both “traditional” hard drives and solid state hard drives, how does the TSA expect its front line screeners to stay current on all new models of computers?

In my experience I have been asked to remove my iPad somewhat often, but flying with the 11″ MacBook Air is more confusing. Over the past month I have been traveling with the MacBook Air, the TSA has required me to remove it from my bag 50% of the time. The inconsistency is apparent in some airports, such as the TSA at both Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) and Providence’s T.F. Green Airport (PVD) have both allowed the 11″ MacBook Air to stay in the bag and have also required me to remove it from the bag.

So having just been allowed to cross through a TSA security check point at New York’s JFK Terminal with both the iPad and MacBook Air remaining in my bag … I am curious what will happen next week when I cross through the same check point again with both the iPad and MacBook Air in my bag.

Happy Flying!

a backpack with a laptop and a tablet in it


  1. The Mac Air is a laptop. It just happens to be in a tighter package than a laptop. I think it should be removed, and I’ve always removed mine as a standard part of process. Considering this can be done during the time waiting to send my stuff into the scanner anyway, it’s zero percent lost time.

    I think ipads, Xooms, etc., will in the long run be left in the bag. However, if you have a ipad along with other devices, that can start to be difficult to scan. I’ve even had to take my Kindle out before, not because the Kindle was a problem, but on top of a bluetooth keyboard, a phone, a flip cam, and a couple other do-dads, it was just too much to sort out.

  2. The TSA has come out and said that the 11″ MacBook Air is a netbook in their eyes, so it can stay in the bag.

    I use both the ipad and the 11″ Air and I’ve been through U.S. Security a number if times, as I’m a crew member.

    So far, they’ve been fine with both, but I have had two TSA employees request they be taken out. Their issue was when I was keeping them in the same pouch in my bag.

    I’ve since kept them separate without any issues.

  3. Jamie – the regs aren’t about what is a laptop or not, but rather the composition and size. The mac air’s thinness is what gets it the dispensation to stay in a bag.

    When a tso agent asks you to remove the item, the right answer is just to do it immediately…and if the situation permits, politely suggest to the tso that they re-check the regs for future situations.

    Ive never had anyone ask for my ipad to come out.

  4. Just completed 6 flights in 3 weeks carrying 2 iPads. On only the LAX-SAT leg did a TSA employee make my 15 year old daughter take her iPad out of her carry on. However, my iPad went thru the scanner in an identical carry on right before her’s with no problem. Wow! Sure made me feel a lot safer since they were “on the job!” (And as a side note, after going thru body scanners leaving SAT, my 4’11,” 93 lb daughter got a pat-down search!)

  5. Toni

    Who knows what teenagers may carry though security … something possibly annoying to their parents … but probably not something impacting national security :0)

    Happy Flying!


  6. In response to Jamie and nybanker, the idea, if you read TSA’s policies is that computers can have their hardware tampered with and what not, harder with solid state drives. The MacBook Air should be left alone, because itt’s not the exterior that matters, it’s the interior. Just like with people, it’s what’s inside that counts! But I’m sure to many TSA, it looks the same…

    Fish, I think that, although the industry is trying to move towards solid state drives because of size and Moore’s Law, yada yada, more and more devices won’t need to be taken out, but until we have completely solid state drives, or something better like MRAM, most TSA will have you take out your electronics, cuz who can keep up and tell about what brand keeps what kind of drive?

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