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I usually carry the following items for international flight:

  • MacBook
  • earhub
  • Walkman
  • iPhone's battery charger (iPhone, all the cards, passport, and tickets are in my pocket)

Since the list of items on the bag is so scarce, I rather want to carry MacBook at hand and let all of the rest in my pocket.

However, it seems that many airlines stipulate the rule on the carry-on bag, including the number, the size, etc...

If I don't have a bag but still carry my items, which look big enough to get noticed (like MacBook; I don't think iPhone and Walkman in hand are subject to the scrutinization), how does an airline decide about the carry-on rule? Is it treated much like one bag, or separate bags whose number is equal to that of items (which seems ridiculous...)?

Or is it not even allowed in the first place?

Also, does it have any problems except an airline, such as when getting through customs, immigration, or security officers?

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    You might have to put your jacket through the X-ray machine, and things could fall out of your pocket. – Michael Hampton Aug 17 '16 at 4:24
  • @MichaelHampton Are you talking about security? I don't have any problems in handing in all of items there much like when I have them in my bag. – Blaszard Aug 17 '16 at 4:27
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    Out of curiosity... By walkman, do you mean a music tape walkman? – simbabque Aug 17 '16 at 7:49
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    So basically a phone-sized device. Besides the laptop, all those things can be in the pockets of your pants or your code. You probably also have a set of keys and a wallet. But for the laptop I would stow everything in various pockets, and I'd also have an external phone battery besides the charger. – simbabque Aug 17 '16 at 8:00
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    I hope I don't end up behind the OP at a security check, as the OP moves half a dozen separate items from pockets to trays, forgets something, and triggers the metal detector. – Patricia Shanahan Aug 17 '16 at 9:12
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You're unlikely to have much issue with the carry-on limitations with just one or two small items held in your hands. A cell phone and pair of earphones in your pocket certainly doesn't count toward carry-on baggage limits.

The bigger issue is the need to secure items in the cabin for takeoff and landing. Many airlines (particularly US airlines in my experience) will instruct passengers to stow laptops at this time (as they can become dangerous projectiles in case of an emergency) and specifically state that a seatback pocket is not an acceptable place to store a laptop. Many new seat designs have done away with seatback pockets all together as well. Laptops must be stored under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin. These are not places I would want to leave a bare laptop (laptops will slide on the plane's carpet). As such, I'd highly recommend at least a small inexpensive laptop sleeve to protect your MacBook.

At security, customs, and immigration, one issue is just physically handling your items; navigating an airport with a bare laptop in hand is somewhat inconvenient (how would you hang on to it while you went to the bathroom for instance?) and makes it easy to accidentally lose something. Quickly handing over your ID and scanning your boarding pass is difficult to do one-handed, and carrying a tray of food while trying to hold your laptop in your armpit can quickly become precarious. Furthermore, security officials are trained to be suspicious of people who do not fit into the normal pattern of travelers, and someone who has no bag and chooses to carry a laptop in his hands is at least a little unusual. It's not that you wouldn't be allowed to travel, but an immigration officer might ask you more questions. At a minimum, the items would need to come out of your pockets at airport security.

Beyond that, there are some additional items I like to carry with me when I travel even if I am checking the bulk of my luggage. Medications, if you take any, should never be checked, as you would have a problem on your hands if your bags are delayed or lost. A change of underwear and a spare t-shirt are a nice backup in cast of lost luggage too, and I generally want basic toiletries for long flights. On a long flight, it's nice to be able to take keys and such out of my pockets for a little more comfort. All those things go inside my bag.

Finally, where's the charger for your MacBook in all this?

In short, while this can work, I can't really understand why you want to do this. There's a reason you don't see people clutching laptops in airports; a small bag or laptop case is the simplest way to carry and protect your items. Most travelers have realized this and so bring one along. How is not using a bag more convenient?

  • Thanks. Ah, the leaving and landing seems the biggest concern then, as I don't like to put it below the front seat, though putting it in overhead bin just before the taxi and taking it out after landing might be acceptable. As to your questions, I always enter a feces room but not able to hang it might be untolerable. I'll buy anything if my baggage is delayed or lost. The charger is in the checked-in baggage as it's enough to get through a day without charging. Why do I want? Because it's my daily job style, as I only bring MacBook and iPhone with cardholder in hand and write code in cafe. – Blaszard Aug 17 '16 at 5:17
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    A neoprene laptop sleeve can take a few small items as well (charger/phone for example), and costs a few £/$/€ on ebay. However most people would find it easier with a shoulder strap as you are likely to want your hands free for check-in and security (e.g. if they decide to make you take your shoes off in the queue). Being able to get on with things rather than fumbling to get your passport out of your pocket while juggling a laptop and holding up the queue is courteous to everyone. – Chris H Aug 17 '16 at 8:06
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    @ChrisH Exactly. And a laptop sleeve with pockets and a shoulder strap is more or less the same thing as a small laptop bag, some are just a bit more sleeve-like and some a bit more bag-like. Once you're there, it comes down to finding the one you prefer. – Zach Lipton Aug 17 '16 at 8:17
  • Yes, I went a bit beyond a comment to back up your point but that was what I aiming at. – Chris H Aug 17 '16 at 8:19
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Why do I want? Because it's my daily job style, as I only bring MacBook and iPhone with cardholder in hand and write code in cafe

I can relate to this and when I am doing "remote work", I also prefer to travel very light.

However, just carrying your laptop in your hand is very risky and more importantly not secure at all; even if you were to place it on the overhead bin, it will easily slide around, trust me on this!

I also understand the trepidation of lugging around a large laptop bag.

If I may be so bold as to suggest the outback solo case from Waterfield Designs (a company based out of San Francisco):

enter image description here

enter image description here

Disclaimer: I own a few of their products, but not the one mentioned here. Only recommending them because of personal experience.

This would be an excellent option as it is designed only to carry your macbook and its charger (and an iphone, as you can see).

Not only is it protecting your laptop, it will also free up your hands which can come in handy (I can imagine trying to find a place to put your laptop while looking for a boarding pass, wallet, etc.)

  • Thanks but then I should just carry my bag. I want to grasp my MacBook rather than hang a bag over shoulder... – Blaszard Aug 17 '16 at 8:05
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    One person bumping in you can make your computer fly, landing hard on the wrong point and you will have very many problems using it, or even getting the things stored in its memory. Put the computer in a bag, slip the strap over your shoulder and still grab the thing itself if you feel better that way. – Willeke Aug 17 '16 at 16:57

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