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I traveled by plane for the first time in my life 3 months ago.
It was 4 trips, which meant 4 hand luggage inspections.

I have a huge problem:
I am asked to remove my laptop and tablet from my bag and place them alone on a separate plastic tray.
While they pass through the X-ray machine, I pass through the metal detector.
However, when I go back and grab my laptop, I get the living s**t zapped out of me.
I did it twice (in 2 different airports with very different security devices) and it happened every time. My brother did it once and it did not happen to him. Likewise for my mother.
The sound is so loud, people turn to look at me. And it's so painful to me, I involuntarily jump backwards. The spark is clearly visible but there is no burn mark or anything like that on my hand or my laptop's paint.
My laptop has a stretched aluminum case painted in black. (more specifically, Lenovo IdeaPad y510p)

Touching the tablet after the laptop has no effect. I never touched it before the laptop because experimenting was the last thing on my mind at the time.

My best idea is to wear gloves when handling my laptop, but I fear two things:

  1. I'll look suspicious and only end up wasting everyone's time going through checks and what-not.
  2. If I don't discharge the laptop, it will discharge on something else, possibly doing damage, or worse, zap me later at a perhaps more inappropriate time.

I touched more metallic objects before my laptop, such as the edge of the thread which moves the bags and my belt.

Could you suggest a solution or a workaround for this issue?
Next time I travel, I will have to take 3 laptops with me, 2 of which have metal casings...

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Have you tried touching the metallic frame of the X-Ray machine? Secondly it seems more likely that the static electricity builds on you rather then on the laptop. May be you need to change what you wear... –  Karlson Jun 12 at 16:48
    
I haven't, and, if my memory serves me well, it was well out of reach in every situation. However, as I mention in the question, I touched the metallic edge of the thread which moved the trays out of the X-ray machine as well as other metallic objects. Edit: I considered that, but I don't see why it discharges on my laptop specifically, which is not (electrically) grounded. Edit 2: The fact that aluminum makes a capacitor also makes me think the laptop's the source. Edit 3: I also did not do anything that others didn't do, so I don't see how I could've built up charge. –  Vercas Jun 12 at 16:51
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This reached the hot network questions? Awesome. –  Vercas Jun 13 at 9:04

2 Answers 2

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Seems unlikely it's anything more than normal electrostatic discharge. The fact that it only affects you could be related to your clothes or shoes (especially if they are made of synthetic fibers). I also wonder whether the moving conveyor belt could be acting as a Van de Graff generator. Do you not get shocks like that under other circumstances? (I live in a semi-arid region with cold winters and I have a metal laptop and a polyester sofa, so every winter day I get many little shocks...)

Anyway, a good trick is to touch the laptop with a piece of metal, such as a key or coin or paperclip. You hold one end of the key firmly and touch the laptop with the other end, so the spark is away from your finger and doesn't hurt. (You might still feel a little tingle between your fingers and the key.) Unfortunately, since you have to go throug a metal detector, it might not be so easy to have a piece of metal with you, but something like a paperclip might be small enough not to trigger it.

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I'll be damned. The system may indeed behave like a Van de Graaff generator when the thread is moving but my laptop is not. While I retrieve my belt, coat, etc. the tray containing the laptop is usually behind another tray or even at the end, with the thread sometimes moving under it. This also explains the extremely painful shocks. Since this seems like a good explanation and the proposed solution (increasing the contact surface area) is brilliant, I will accept this answer. Thank you very much for this. –  Vercas Jun 12 at 17:16
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A note: a paperclip will set off the metal detector. I've seen it go off on the metal pieces on headbands, for example. –  Nathan C Jun 12 at 19:10
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If you place something metal, like your keys, in the bowl to go through the x-ray scanner ahead of the laptop, it will be there to use as a static discharge device later. –  Michael Edenfield Jun 12 at 21:10
    
@NathanC: Hmm. I guess they vary in sensitivity. I have a watch that, although it's mostly plastic and leather, has a metal buckle and back; certainly more metal than a paperclip. I often forget to take it off, and I don't think it's ever set off an airport metal detector. (But lately most of my airports have gone over to millimeter-wave, so I don't go through metal detectors as much as I used to.) –  Nate Eldredge Jun 12 at 21:19
    
@NathanC I've gone through metal detectors wearing my belt, watch (all metal) and necklace...All at once and separately (some agents are more strict/observant about it) Never set off the metal detector. Somehow doubt that a paperclip would set off the metal detector if all that didn't. –  Doc Jun 13 at 1:09

While certainly not as good as Nate Eldrege's answer, I have a fairly simple solution for dealing with shocks.

Whenever I determine that something is a source of electrostatic discharge, I always put my hand into a fist and discharge with the bottom of my fist (ie: the opposite side that your thumb is on). Tuck your thumb into your closed fist under your fingers. This area certainly isn't as sensitive as your extended finger and will significantly lessen the pain/discomfort of discharge.

enter image description here

Again tucking your thumb in and making a tight fist, as I have found, lessens the severity of the shock.

Test it out on low-shock items (ie: metal doors, etc.) to get a feel for it.

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The back of your flat hand is also not very sensitive and has a large surface area to spread the shock. –  David Richerby Jun 13 at 4:04
    
@DavidRicherby It may have hairs, though, as is my case. I need to test this. –  Vercas Jun 13 at 7:09

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