Gear: First checkpoint-ready laptop bag to hit stores in October

By Sean O'Neill
October 3, 2012
Courtesy Targus

Hate having to take out your laptop for TSA inspection? We do, too. As we anticipated, manufacturers are racing to sell laptop bags that can meet TSA standards and allow screeners to catch a clear scan of the laptop without needing to remove it from a bag.

Targus, manufacturer of laptop computer cases and other travel products, has previewed its Zip-ThruTM 15.4” Corporate Traveler Laptop Case, the first announced checkpoint-friendly laptop case.

The bag will be divided with the laptop on one side in a cushioned pouch and your other belongings in the other half.

This morning, the Detroit Free Press described how the bag works:

Open it up, lay it on the conveyor belt and let it pass through. Pick it up at the other end, secure it shut and you're on your way.

The bag will be black (surprise!) and made of an impressive-sounding "durable ballistic 1680 denier nylon." It measures about 17 inches by 6.5 inches by 14 inches, and weighs less than pounds. It will sell for around $99 when it goes on sale in October.


Gear: Laptop bags that will pass the TSA test

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Travel Tips

Ads on boarding passes: Are airlines sharing your info?

There's been some commotion in the blogosphere about airlines selling advertising space on the boarding passes that passengers print at home. You may not mind seeing ads on your boarding pass, such as one with a coupon for a restaurant at your destination. But should you worry that your privacy is being invaded? Are the airlines sharing demographic information (such as your gender, city of residence, and past flight history) to generate the ads? We called Sojern, the company that's selling the ad space, Delta the first airline to unveil the ads, and five other airlines who have contracts with Sojem, including American, Continental, Northwest, United, and US Airways. All confirmed that they do not share passengers' personal information. "We are not getting any information from the airline other than where they're going and when they're going to be there," said Sojern spokeswoman Susan Booth. Eventually, Sojern plans to offer an "opt-in" service, allowing travelers to customize their boarding passes based on the interests that they voluntarily provide, said Booth. For example, if you love Chinese food, you may someday be able to let Sojern know, and then it will offer you boarding passes that print out restaurant coupons relevant to your trip destination. But for those who aren't interested in the ads, or who want to save their color ink for printing vacation photos, all boarding passes have the option to "print without offers," said Booth. Would you print a boarding pass with ads? Send us your comments.

Travel Tips

The lowdown on U.S. passport cards

This month the government began to produce U.S. passport cards—a cheaper, easier-to-carry alternative to traditional passports. Each passport card fits in a wallet and typically costs only $45, versus $100 for a passport. (Both are valid for a decade; prices and rules vary for citizens under 16 years old.) Whoa, back up a sec! I've forgotten the rules for traveling in and out of the country. Give me a quick update. Until recently, your needed a driver's license and birth certificate to return home after sea and land travel. Now you have an additional option, called a passport card. Starting June 1, 2009, you'll be required to carry a passport or passport card to return home after sea and land travel (with some exceptions). Do passport cards work the same way as traditional passports? No. Cheaper passport cards can only be used for land and sea travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. For any air travel outside of the U.S., you need a traditional passport. Plus only traditional passports can be marked with cool stamps from around the world. I'm confused. Why would I bother with a passport card when a traditional passport covers both land/sea travel and air travel? Think of passport cards as similar to—though not exactly like—the EZ Pass electronic toll collection system that's popular on Northeast toll roads. Border officers can access photographs and biographical information on your passport card from 20 feet away because each card contains a radio frequency identification chip. Officers pull up your info on their electronic devices before you reach them, speeding up the process. Your traditional passport can't do that. Hmm.... Can anyone read my passport card and learn my private info? For people who may have concerns about privacy, "there's no danger of any personal information being transmitted from the chip on the card, because there is no information on the card," says Steve Royster, spokesman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department. "Instead, all the chip has is an ID number that will be used to link the card to a secure government database that's accessed as someone drives toward the border." And for added security, each card comes with a protective sleeve that acts as a shield to prevent any kind of transmission. So which should I get: a passport or a passport card? Do you frequently cross either the Mexican or Canadian border by car? Get a passport card. It will speed your processing at the border. Plan to fly outside of the U.S.? You need a traditional passport. Taking a cruise? Ask your cruise line what identification you will need. Some cruise lines have identification requirements that are tighter than the State Department's. What's the best option for a child? If you don't expect that your child will take an international flight in the next five years—a passport card is best. It costs $35 for kids under age 16, versus $85 for a traditional passport. Is there any reason why someone might want to get a traditional passport and a passport card? Says the spokesman, Royster, "Some people like the convenience of having a reliable ID they can walk around with in their pocket or purse." When applying for a new job, a driver's license, a marriage certificate, or conducting financial transactions, you may need to show copies of your birth certificate. Now, instead, you can carry a passport card, which is valid in all states as a way to confirm your identity and citizenship. A tip: If you apply for both at the same time or if you already have a valid passport, you can get a passport card for an additional $20. How do I get a passport card and/or a passport? If you don't already have a passport, you must apply in-person at a passport acceptance facility (such as a post office, library, or courthouse). To find one, search by zip code at To learn how to apply, visit As a general rule, bring proof of identity and of U.S. citizenship along with two passport-ready photos. If you already have a passport, you can apply by mail—the same way you would renew your passport. Note: Like a normal passport renewal, you'll have to send in two passport photos with the application, plus your current passport, which will be returned to you within about four weeks, regardless of when your passport card arrives. Is it easier to get a passport card than a traditional passport? Alas, no. The application process for the cards is the same as it is for traditional passports. With both, if you're eligible to mail in the application, you'll save the potential hassle of waiting in line at the post office or courthouse. Royster says that the cards will eventually have the same turnaround time as traditional passports (currently, about four weeks). But don't expect a four-week turnaround this summer: The State Department began accepting applications, first come, first served, for the cards in February and received more than 350,000 requests. It has mailed out 7,600 cards and expects to have the rest of the preorders sent out by the end of September. If you applied for a passport card today, the earliest you could expect to receive one is after the initial 350,000 orders are filled. Expedited service ($60 more plus delivery fees, for a two-week turnaround), like what’s currently offered for passports, will also eventually be available for the cards, but not until production catches up. Anything else I should know? Travel from U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, doesn't require either a passport or a passport card.

Travel Tips

June 14-17 LimoLiner as Amtrak alternative

For a recent trip from New York City to Boston, I opted to ride LimoLiner instead of take a train or a rental car. As I blogged about yesterday, Amtrak is disrupting most of its New York City to Boston service June 14 to 17. So if you're traveling that route on those dates, you may especially want to consider LimoLiner as an alternative. UPDATE June 12 4p.m.: The installation of a new bridge span on the Thames River Bridge, originally scheduled for June 14 through 17, has been rescheduled for June 16 through June 19. I first heard of LimoLiner from Amy Langfield of, a blog about NYC activities and event-listings. (Amy mentioned this bus line when she was a guest expert for a recent live chat.) While not exactly "budget travel"—my ticket was $140 roundtrip on four days' notice—LimoLiner was less costly than Amtrak's offer of $162 roundtrip (offpeak, regional service), and cheaper than renting the cheapest rental car (including gas and insurance costs) in the NYC area on a weekend—at least as far as I could find via Orbitz. The most distinctive part of LimoLiner is that it comes with a "bus attendant" who serves meals en-route and who hands out earplugs so that you have the option of enjoying the movie that's shown as well as the live CNN coverage. (Because you need to use headphones to hear the movie, passengers who aren't interested in watching can be blissfully left to read or work on their laptops in the quiet. (Incidentally, 110-volt power plugs are available at each seat station.) The WiFi signal is outstandingly strong. The bus has two "repeaters" on-board to ensure broadband-strength WiFi Internet connections—and steady cell-phone service, too. The bus was speedy, making only one scheduled stop, in Framingham, Mass. On my trip, the meals were okay. The options were a chicken or a vegetarian sandwich, with a choice of a carb-based snack and a beverage. The seats were super comfy (reclining what felt like 160 degrees for easy napping). The young "bus attendant" was actually attentive, helping some elderly customers get blankets to stay warm in the A/C. Another perk: LimoLiner features a standard toilet seat like you'd find in a house instead of on a bus. On my trip, the bathroom had a vase with some fresh flowers. Last details: Each row only has three seats, allowing for more elbow room and better views of the flat-screen monitors that broadcast movies and live CNN. The New York City stop is outside of the Hilton New York; in Boston, it's at the Hilton Back Bay. Average trip time is four hours.

Travel Tips

Young travelers can let others foot the bill

You've finally graduated -- now it's time to celebrate. There's a new way to plan (and afford) that post-graduation backpacking trip to Europe. Contiki, a vacation-planning service specializing in travel for 18- to 35-year-olds, has a gift registry. You can post your dream trip, and your friends and family can log on to fund parts of it—including airfare and hotel(s). After registering for free, you get a personal website with a blog and photo gallery, so your gift-givers can see what you're doing with their money. Select from 100-plus packages, and then tack on as many extras as you choose to personalize your trip. With locations as far away as Australia and as close to home as Canada (not to mention U.S. destinations), you might cure your wanderlust just enough to start looking for a 9-to-5. Not to say we’re betting on it. Details at