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As mentioned in another question, I'm planning on traveling with a desktop computer as checked baggage. After considering the options, I've decided to take it in its original cardboard box (used for shipping), making sure to pad everything inside very well.

What should I do to securely prepare the box before checking it in? Some suggestions others have given me so far:

  • Spray paint the box black so it's not obvious there's a computer inside.
  • Wrap the entire box with duct tape to reinforce it.
  • Use tape to seal the "hand holes" on either side used for carrying the box.
  • Run packing tape around all the edges to reinforce the box.
  • Write "FRAGILE" on multiple sides of the box.
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3  
The only experience I had was that the cardboard box attracts attention of the customs officers. –  Grzenio Dec 10 '11 at 9:57
    
I shipped a 32" flat screen TV from the U.S. to Mexico this way. I padded it extra (mostly with clothing) and filled in the gaps with a few other things I wanted to take. It arrived in good order; I believe in part because it was obvious it was a TV, so the handlers knew instinctively to treat it with care. Although it would have been hard to disguise a box that size and shape anyway. –  Flimzy Dec 11 '11 at 17:18

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I've used cardboard boxes as checked luggage several times, including to transport desktop computers twice.

Most likely the airline will make you sign a waiver that you accept all responsibility for any damage, but otherwise you'll have no issues as long as it's within the allowed weight/size guidelines (which if it's just a computer, it will be).

I didn't bother with any extra padding/etc, on the basis that the original foam in the box fitted the computer perfectly. I did make a point to wrap the computer completely in plastic (eg, the plastic bags that they normally come in, or something similar) and then seal the bag with tape in an effort to make it somewhat waterproof - obviously not enough that it's going to handle getting dunked in water, but enough that it'll survive getting rained on whilst they are loading/unloading the plane.

Fragile stickers certainly wont hurt - I actually use "fragile" tape that you can get from Office Depot or similar and just run it around the box a few times.

If possible, try and pick flights that are on a wide-body aircraft (747, A340, etc) as cargo on those is generally treated a little better than on narrow-body aircraft where it's manually loaded into the hold, rather than being loaded in crates.

And just remember that at the destination airport you'll probably need to go to the "oversized" baggage area to collect it rather than getting it on the normal luggage belt.

Update: I once again traveled with a checked-in box from the USA to Australia just before Christmas. On this occasion the box was opened by the TSA for a security check - however I'm happy to say that they did an excellent job of opening and re-sealing the box. Other than the note they put in the box and the fragile tape obviously being cut there was no other indication that it had been opened. Everything was still packed exactly as I had left it, and they had sealed the box just as well as I had.

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London Heathrow has a service wherein they'll essentially wrap your box in green saran wrap (a plastic film). The idea is that it will be immediately evident to any thieves that a box has been tampered with, and thus they had be awfully sure that they want to break in before attempting.

This answer about wrapping your luggage at the airport will have more about that.

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