I'll be travelling from Miami to Istanbul (non-stop with Turkish Airlines) I have a HTPC atx case. I kept the protective foam of the case. I will pack it in a hard plastic storage box and tape the lid properly. The box is big and there is enough space to add other small items.

There are different statements about how the TSA handles such packages:

  1. TSA knows what a PC case is. It is a common item. They most likely will not open your checked-in baggage. (random checks don't count here)
  2. A PC is a metal box that blocks x-rays and will be considered as a suspicious item at the moment of x-ray screening. TSA will most likely dig into your baggage and destroy all the careful packaging.

Which one describes the real situation?

If there are special constraints which alter the situation, what are they? The things I can think off are:

  • Small airports do the x-ray screening in front of you and if they require the package to be opened, it is not a big problem as it can be repackaged on the spot.
  • If your package includes additional items which increase the "danger alert" of the PC case, the likelihood of it being opened increases. These additional items may be things which are not really transparent such as books shampoo etc...
  • If the whole flight is non-stop, can it be said, take the risk, you are good to go. (Do they check it again if you have connecting flights?)

Edit: My question is mostly about how TSA processes such packages. I know, if it is packed carefully, it will be fine. But, TSA may destroy the packaging just because there is a metal box in it (how likely?). I'm looking for some advice on skipping TSA inspection if possible.

  • Possible duplicate of Can I bring my desktop computer as check-in baggage on a flight?
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 17:22
  • 1
    I read that question. They don't really discuss how TSA handles such packages. There are different opinions on this. Some say, security will know it. Some say it will cause problem.
    – gokhan
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 17:46
  • There's useful information in that question, but it is not a duplicate. Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 18:14
  • 3
    Anecdotal: I do not have a metal case. I put the Macbook in a padded laptop case, wrapped a few layers of beach towel around it, then all the clothes and arranged things so that it was in the center of the checked bag, maximum distance from the sides of the bag. When I next opened the bag on the other end, the only thing between the laptop and the lid of the bag was the note from TSA saying that they had to open the bag for my safety. All the clothes and other things had just been tossed in any which way. "Fragile? Bob, don't you know that's Eye-tallion for 'How far can you throw this'?"
    – WGroleau
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 20:17

3 Answers 3


There is a very strong possibility that the combination of the large metal case and the outer container being securely taped shut will generate interest from the TSA inspector. You would do well to pack it in a fashion that allows it to be easily opened and closed (ie: no tape).

I travel occasionally with large plastic totes and use nylon compression straps to secure the lid. I will wrap the straps so that the buckles are on top and then wrap duct tape around the four sides, so that the straps stay attached to the bottom of the tote when they are undone. TSA has always reattached them and cinched them secure when they have inspected the contents (which is frequent since I often carry odd shaped metal bike parts & tools in the totes).

Ultimately the decision to inspect or not is a judgement call by the individual TSA agent handling your bag. There is no way for anyone (even other TSA agents) to know with any certainty if your bag will be opened or not, so best to be prepared for that possibility

ps: Murphy's Law says that if you don't want it opened, it will be opened.

  • Why would tape be a problem? I've had boxes opened by TSA before - they always cleanly cut the tape, and then re-tape the box when they are done. A "large metal case" won't generate any interest at all - the X-ray will show its contents, which in the case of a computer also won't generate interest.
    – Doc
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 20:51
  • Just because you have had good luck does not guarantee everyone else has. I have seen some pretty poor re-tape jobs by TSA, so it is better safe than sorry. I have also had a tote with a computer opened for additional inspection.
    – user13044
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 15:15

A metal PC case is going to be almost transparent to an airport x-ray machine. In the era when you didn't have to to take your laptop out, I often travelled with two or three in my hand-luggage and only rarely got asked to remove them to be separately screened.

The only problem is likely to be the PSU. If you can remove that and pack it separately or take in hand luggage, I'd say you had a better chance of the bag containing the PC case not being opened.

TSA are reported to hand screen a lot of checked-baggage, so irrespective of the contents you have a fair chance of it being opened anyway.

If you have connecting flights in other countries you can expect they have their own due diligence and will x-ray and may inspect your luggage if they evaluate that the item is a potential risk.

If you're originating in the US, I would not assume anyone will make any attempt to contact you in case they wish to examine your luggage.

I have to say this answer is mainly opinion rather than statements of fact (but was too long for a comment!)

  • "in the era when you don't have to take your laptop out" ... where do you fly? While I enjoy TSA-Pre, most of the people in line with me still have to take their laptops out.
    – user13044
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 19:20
  • 2
    @Tom "didn't" not "don't"!
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 19:37

There's not a very reliable answer to this question. If TSA has statistics for "how likely is it that my bag will be hand searched?", or "what is the best way to avoid a security check of my bag?", I suspect it does not disclose them. If you want a guarantee that your packaged goods will be undisturbed, this kind of public air carriage is not the solution.

A few years ago, I had an oversized and substantially overweight laptop computer from my workplace that I was hoping to lose, so I often put it in my checked luggage. I would estimate TSA searched my bags (and upset the packaging) about a quarter of the time, which seems to me very high. Without the laptop I don't recall ever having a manual bag search by TSA. But that is a plastic laptop with a big lithium ion battery, not the same as a metal ATX-sized computer.

To my knowledge bags will not be screened more than once at connection points inside the USA, outside of unusual circumstances.

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