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Why do you need to take your laptop from your bag during airport security checks? Why can't they just x-ray check the whole bag together with the laptop?

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@victoriah no it's not USA... whenever I travel in Europe I am always asked to do so –  Templar Dec 16 '11 at 23:25
    
really? i'm a european and i've travelled extensively around europe and i've never, ever been asked to remove my laptop or take off my shoes. –  victoriah Dec 16 '11 at 23:27
    
@victoriah well I haven't been asked either but it's because I always take it off myself, since there's signs informing about it. And about boots I saw that they ask to take off them only if metal detector is beeping –  Templar Dec 16 '11 at 23:38
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Have travelled lots in the past 4 years in Europe, and ALWAYS get asked to remove my netbook, and usually my belt and shoes. Although like Templar, I generally observe the signs requesting this and comply before I reach the desk. –  Mark Mayo Dec 16 '11 at 23:53
    
Just coming back from holiday in Spain, some of my friends where held up in a queue because a woman had an iPhone hidden in her huge luggage bag; took her ages to get it out and show it to the security people who wanted to see it, and people actually got quite angry and demanded that she should be sent to the back of the queue. –  gnasher729 Aug 29 at 18:05

3 Answers 3

up vote 19 down vote accepted

X Rays don't penetrate metal. Circuit boards have a lot of metal and solder, making it easy to conceal items within. If the TSA can't see it, they get nervous. Hence the 'take out your laptop.' (Why they don't require that of iPads, I don't know.)

Now, all this being said, you can get bags that have laptop compartments. The only requirement is that they can see just the laptop and nothing else in there. This way, you don't need to take it out.

This trick, along with the "put all my electronics in my suit jacket, means that I get through the scanner as follows:

  1. belt and shoes, with my suit jacket in one bin
  2. unzip my backpack so that the laptop is flat and the rest is laying out in front
  3. my toilettries bag (an old pencil case connected to the bag via a carbiner) hooked to the top.

I walk through,

  1. put my shoes and belt back on
  2. zip my bag back up
  3. put my jacket back on

I'm through in like 40 seconds.

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It's also worth ensuring that your bag isn't too full - last time I flew from Heathrow I took out my laptop from an otherwise crammed bag, then they made me send more of the contents through individually as apparently it was so full they couldn't see through it all! –  Gagravarr Dec 17 '11 at 0:18
    
Boxes of batteries make their day :-). My only missed flight was partially due to having to go through XRaying 3 times due to carrying many many batteries. –  Russell McMahon Aug 29 at 17:45

Generally it's so that they can check the metal device that it is, and that nothing else is hidden in it. Same with SLR cameras on occasion, and I've been asked in the past to turn both of them on to prove they actually work. But generally they just want a clear and unobstructed view of all the workings, especially to see the harddisk platter. That caused some problems when SSD drives came out and they couldn't see any moving parts...

The TSA has just approved "Checkpoint Friendly" Laptop bags :

To help streamline the security process and better protect laptops, TSA recently encouraged manufacturers to design bags that will produce a clear and unobstructed image of the laptop when undergoing X-ray screening. A design that meets this objective will enable TSA to allow laptops to remain in bags for screening.

British authorities don't seem to explain much either in general, but do require that they are screened separately:

Laptops will need to be removed from your bag at Heathrow Airport and screened separately in the trays provided.

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Especially true now about turning things on, make sure your batteries are charged otherwise your item may be confiscated. –  Burhan Khalid 2 days ago

The innards of a laptop are confusing enough on their own but when you then overlay that image with the shadows cast by the accessories it turns into a confusing mess they can't understand.

Any such confusion of items will likely draw an inspection. They are just pre-empting it by saying to take the laptop out. It's also why they recommend you arrange electronics in a single layer in your carry-on--they're trying to avoid the confusion that necessitates a search through the bag.

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I agree with the avoid confusion. When I flew from the UK to Iceland last I had lots of chargers (phone, laptop *2, GPS, camera etc) in my bag. I took all the actual devices out, but the bag was pulled aside for screening. When one of the security personnel asked what to look for the reply was "There's lots of wires in there" –  Phil Sep 17 '13 at 18:41
    
@Phil The same thing has happened to me. In the pre 9/11 era I had packed very quickly due to a family emergency--I just grabbed what I needed and threw it in my rollaboard. The chargers ended up in a tangle and that drew a hand inspection. Since then I have always been careful about how things are arranged and the only thing that has drawn a hand inspection was a box of batteries. –  Loren Pechtel Sep 18 '13 at 5:09

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