New TSA laptop bag policy won't improve anything

ATHENS, GREECE -- The Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plans to introduce new rules for laptop bags. Special, new X-ray friendly bags will allow you to leave your laptop in the bag. Unfortunately, this will only increase the pain of passing through airline security.

Removing a laptop from your bag seems like a small annoyance. But when you combine that with removing your shoes, belt, and watch, and emptying your pockets after waiting in line for 30 minutes -- multiplied times 50 trips a year -- well, it adds to the general pain and indignity of passing through U.S. airline security.

That's why the TSA's new rules sound like a small blessing. If only.

The TSA is working with bag makers like Targus and others to detail the specs of allowable bags. The new bags will have to be made of materials transparent to X-rays and -- importantly -- either provide no room for or separate adaptors, cables, straps and other stuff that obsures the view of X-ray readers. In other words, the cases will have to allow X-ray readers to see the laptop as clearly as if it weren't in any case at all.

I'm a pretty typical frequent flier type in that I carry a rolling laptop bag that also stores my Skype headset, charger, GPS gadget, as well as the mini Radio Shack of cables, peripherals and other stuff. I carry my Kindle everywhere, as well as sunglasses, camera and other junk.

Unfortunately, the new X-ray friendly bags wouldn't allow us to carry all this extra stuff or, in the case of some designs, they would allow only some of it. Most of us would have to carry a second bag -- one for the laptop and another for the other stuff we carry in our laptop bags.

The trouble with this is that most airlines have a two-bag maximum for carry on. So we'd have to check our garment bags. This is usually problematic because of the risk of the airline losing the luggage. Also: American Airlines announced this week that it plans to start charging $15 per bag for each bag checked. Other airlines will probably follow suit.

The worst thing about the new rules however, is that they'll create the general impression that you don't have to remove your laptop. It won't be at all clear which laptop bags are properly manufactured and packed. Bag compliance will only be confirmed after the bag passes through the X-ray machine. Those that don't will have to be removed and re-processed, further slowing the already glacial security lines.

It seems to me that the TSA's solution to every problem is more complexity, confusion and waiting.

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